Scanning Software for Mac & Windows Computers

A few days ago, I received a promotional e-mail from Musitek.  The e-mail read:

SmartScore X2 Pro Edition
New Version 10.5.8

This is our most powerful upgrade ever!

Every day for the past 2 years our engineers have been working hard to improve SmartScore X2 Pro recognition, editing, playback and MusicXML export features and functions. All that work has paid off. Now, you can enjoy those benefits and more with one low, discounted upgrade price of just $99 !

Not long ago, Neuratron released its latest version of PhotoScore (now Photoscore and NotateMe Ultimate 8).

I am a Finale user.  That has changed somewhat as I have not upgraded to Finale 2014 and am instead using Notion (iOS and Mac/Win) while waiting for the next version of Finale.  For years, I used SmartScore and bought SmartScoreX Professional Edition to use to recognize music.  I was never really happy with the scanning results (always working with choral music), so I started to look at other solutions.

Finally, I took the plunge and bought PhotoScore Ultimate.  PhotoScore is the scanning software paired with Sibelius.  As a Finale user, I felt that I was “cheating” on the Finale ecosystem–but found that PhotoScore Ultimate simply did a better job of scanning (accuracy) than SmartScore X Professional.  When SmartScore X2 was released two and a half years ago, I downloaded the demo and compared PhotoScore and SmartScore X2.  At that point, PhotoScore had not been updated since 2011.  Even so, I found that PhotoScore still did a better job than SmartScore X2, so I did not buy the update.

I like to continue to give programs a chance to improve.  So with the announcement of SmartScore X2’s latest improvements, I wanted to try the program.  In fact, the e-mail stated:

Want to try before you commit?
Click here to download a free demo of SmartScore X2 Pro, Version 10.5.8

I downloaded the new demo, and when I opened it to run, I was told the demo period had expired.  I e-mailed Musitek, and asked for help, and they responded suggesting that I download and install the actual patch to X2, which I did.  That didn’t work, either.  I e-mailed again, and they encouraged me to buy the upgrade, and they told me would be willing to refund my money if I was dissatisfied.  I didn’t want to do that–$99 isn’t an impulse buy.

I remembered that I had my Windows 8 tablet (last turned on in March), so I charged up that computer and  downloaded the demo on that computer.

I am currently working on making some rehearsal tracks for a musical I am working with in the fall, so I simply took the next piece–which was already in a PDF format–and ran the two programs on it.  The original PDF isn’t mine, as we don’t have the actual scores yet (they show up about a month before the show), so I am using someone else’s scan to get ready for the show.  This particular scan has another language written on top of each line (it was obviously performed and translated in this other language), so not only do the programs have to make sense of the music–they also have to try to make sense of all the text.

The truth be told–I am used to having to delete all the text and enter it by hand regardless of the scanning program that I use.  But still, this is a real life situation.  I’m not throwing a single line instrumental score at these programs, or even a simple (clean) SA choral score.

It s possible that if I used a flatbed scanner, and scanned everything as a .TIFF file that SmartScore X2 prefers (it converts PDFs to TIFF files, where PhotoScore seems to just work with PDFs), I might get better results.  But again, all of my music either is already scanned or will be scanned as a PDF, and if I am going to recognize it with software, I will not do so from yet ANOTHER scan in another format.

My results?  SmartScore is greatly improved, but PhotoScore remains better.  Perhaps the new SmartScore would have resulted in a better scan than the old PhotoScore, but Neuratron upped their game with PhotoScore and NotateMe Ultimate 8.   You can see an example of each program below, from the 3rd page of the same score.  Both would require clean-up, but PhotoScore gets you further down the road.  Not only does PhotoScore get more notes right, it also does so in the correct voices (i.e. multiple events happening at the same time on the same staff).  Both programs tell you where measures don’t add up correctly.  I have never done much editing in either program–as soon as I can, I import it into a true notation software package and begin clean up.

It is worth saying that SmartScore X2 has Garritan sounds embedded in the program–so if you are looking for a scanning program to play what you see, SmartScore will undoubtedly sound better than PhotoScore.  For me this isn’t an issue–if I want quality sounds, I move to Notion (on the Mac or on the iPad).

I find myself at a place where I can actually recommend either program.  If you are a Finale user, working with PhotoScore does require you to work outside of the Finale environment, as you have to work with MusicXML files.  This isn’t terribly difficult to do, but if using Finale already stresses you out, working with yet another package might push you over the edge.  in that case, you can invest in the SmartScore upgrade knowing that you have a solid program to work with.  For the last few years, I would not have felt comfortable saying that.  But do keep in mind that you still will have more clean-up work to do than if you go with PhotoScore.

If you want the most accurate scanning–again, from PDFs in particular–your best solution is PhotoScore and NotateMe Ultimate 8.

The scan from SmartScore X2 Demo

The scan from SmartScore X2 Demo

PhotoScore and NotateMe Ultimate 8

PhotoScore and NotateMe Ultimate 8

Disclaimer: Although I used my own income to purchase SmartScore X Professional and PhotoScore 7 Ultimate, I was given copies of PhotoScore and NotateMe Ultimate 8 for review purposes; and while I was unable to re-install the demo of SmartScore X2 on my Mac, this did not influence my conclusion in any way.  Had SmartScore proved to be more accurate than PhotoScore, I would have paid the $99 upgrade fee to move to SmartScore X2 this evening.


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