Like many composers, writing a new piece usually starts with a few ideas on the piano. In the main I use a Kawai CA65 Concert Version digital piano which has a nice touch and plenty of voices.
I then move pretty quickly on to Sibelius (version 7) which I’ve used for a number of years now. It has lots of different features and I find the score presentation neat and concise.
A few composers I know have recently switched to Dorico and are very enthusiastic about it, saying it’s much simpler to use, although I haven’t tried it myself. I suspect that both packages are of high quality. Another one to consider is Finale which has been around for a while now but had an update in 2021. However, I have no personal experience of it.
As for playback, I like the playback sound on Sibelius – ‘Sibelius Sounds’; in general I think it’s very authentic, particularly the strings, but its main drawback is that overall the sound is a little thin. In contrast, the playback sound generated by the NotePerformer software is much more powerful and it can be used in Sibelius as an alternative to Sibelius Sounds as well as in other programmes. I particularly like the brightness and clarity of the brass and woodwind but I do find the string sounds a little too obviously artificial and that is a disadvantage. Articulations however are extremely precise.
For particular pieces I transfer my Sibelius score to a Digital Audio Workstation (I use Cubase 9.5) and then edit the sounds with the virtual instruments of the Vienna Symphonic Library. I have tried this on pieces for string orchestra and find it works really well; for piano sounds, and, in particular, for solo piano, I prefer using the virtual pianos provided by Modartt Pianoteq (I use Pianoteq 6). The sounds are very convincing and a large number of virtual pianos with their own particular tone qualities are available.