The Best Computer For Music Production
Andre E. (Drey Andersson)
C.E.O of TheMusicProducersBlog, Music Producer, Sound Designer, Mentor
Best Computer For Music Production
(Last Updated On: November 18, 2017)
There are countless guides on audio computers and computers for music production yet no one is really telling people what is important in a computer that is made for audio use. There are people all around the world who ask themselves what they should get when starting with audio production.
I’ve been using PCs and Macs for the last 12 years, been customizing and building my own computers, even tuning laptops for Hackintosh use.
PC vs Mac
Having used both systems everything comes with its advantages and disadvantages
|Price||PCs are more affordable than Apple Computers. You can buy peripherals for a lower price and upgrade the system with less money||Apple computers generally cost more when compared with PCs. This also goes for peripherals, upgrades, and repairs.|
|Speed||As for 2017 Intel and AMD came out with very fast processors with their X299 and X399 chipsets (Up to 18 processing cores) The newester generation of CPUs usually comes out on the PC platform first.||Apple often uses Intel processors that are one generation behind the current development. The current Mac Pro is still using an 8 core CPU from an older generation. Only with the new iMac Pro Apple is giving customers the opportunity to buy a computer with the new Intel generation of 8, 10 or 18 cores|
|Operating System||With Windows 10 Microsoft improved stability, security and functionality of their operating system. There are also improvements on the audio side of the operating system.||The Apple OS is easier to use and has more support in the creative industry. Although Windows caught up and made progress, Mac OSX still feels more stable and secure|
|Audio Software||Every DAW Software except Apple Logic is available for PC. You have more free effect and instrument plugins to choose from.||Has Apple's own DAW: Logic Pro X. Other than that every major DAW is supported.
Less choice in terms of free effect and instrument plugins
|Hardware||With PCs you can choose your hardware manufacturer. Whether it's the CPU (Intel / AMD), Mainboard, Ram etc.||Limited to Intel CPU's only. Apple chooses the right components from the start. No need to do your own research what power supply, motherboard, and RAM to get. YOu get the complete package|
|Quality||Very dependent on the components you'll buy. You can find brands that match Apple's quality but you need to do the research. Otherwise you can get in trouble if you buy a PC from a supermarket where the manufacturer cheapened out on the components .||Overall very good quality, better materials, and design.|
|Customization & Upgrades||Endless customization and upgrade possibilities||With the new Mac models, there are hardly any options to upgrade your components.|
|Audio Drivers||Dependent on the manufacturer of your audio interface. If the interface comes with great drivers you won't have any trouble||Has it's own core audio drivers that usually have fewer problems with audio interfaces|
|Gaming||Tired of mixing and producing music? The PC offers you great options to play some video games (dependent on the video card)||The upper iMac and Mac Pro models also give you the opportunity to play video games.|
|Repair||Easier to repair since you can replace every component.||Apple often glues together the new Mac models so there is no chance to open the case and replace certain hardware parts. Sometimes an entire logic board needs to be replaced if a problem occurs which also results in more costs.|
|Security||Windows 10 improved its security with a new build in virus scanner (Windows Defender) You no longer need to install complicated anti-virus software.||Less vulnerable to viruses and malware. However, since Macs are getting popular there are more people who want to write viruses and malware for the new platform|
|Touch Functionality||Many touchscreen capabilities especially with Windows 10||No touch abilities on iMacs or Mac Pros (Not including iPads or iPhones)|
|Connectivity||With PCs you usually get more options to connect external hardware. Every PC has expansion ports on its motherboard||Apple has been reducing the number of ports in the recent years. If this is a good or a bad thing it up for you to decide.|
- There are a lot of different PC manufacturers and brands – The quality of your pc depends on the parts you will buy or on what parts the manufacturer (Dell, HP etc.) intended to use on its PC build.
- Apple can run Windows – Apple’s Boot Camp software gives you the opportunity to run the latest Windows version. And Windows can be used officially on the Mac platform
- PCs can run Apple’s OSX operating system (unofficially) – There are ways to get OSX working on a PC but you need to get the right components and do a lot of research. These systems are referred to as “Hackintosh-PCs”.
- Don’t compare older Macs with HDDs with newer PC models with SSDs and vice versa. The thing is that your 7-year-old PC with an SSD can be faster than a newer Mac with HDD. Hard drives can make a huge difference in performance
What are the key points when buying an audio computer?
- Budget and Money – How much money can you spend on your new audio computer?
- Processing Speed – How fast do you want the computer to be, do you want to use a lot of plugins without bouncing everything to .wav files?
- Portability – Do you often visit different music studios and don’t want to take a big desktop computer with you?
- Connectivity – What audio interface will you buy and what connection does it have? You can’t buy a Thunderbolt interface if your motherboard doesn’t have these kinds of connections
Desktop vs Laptop
Now after you decided whether you want to get a PC or a MAC you need to decide whether it’s going to be a Desktop or a Laptop computer.
Desktop computers have these advantages over their laptop counterparts:
- Better processing power – You can get desktop computers with up to 18 processing cores, yet with laptops, the highest core count is usually 4. Additionally, desktop solutions provide better cooling which results in higher CPU clock speed
- Better connectivity and expandability – More USB ports, more space, and connections for additional hard drives
- Customization – You can upgrade every part, upgrade your CPU, RAM and much more (At least on PCs)
If you’re not big on upgrading your computer in the future and you’re always on the go in different studios it’s better to go with a laptop
Important components to look out when buying a new audio computer:
- CPU – Look out for a high clock frequency and the number of processing cores (4 or more)
- RAM – How much RAM does the computer need to work with your DAW and all the Instruments. For example, there are patches within Spectrasonics Omnisphere & Trillian that need over 1GB of RAM. I recommend a minimum of 16GB of RAM for Desktops and 8GB for Laptops
- Hard Drive – Does the computer have an SSD or an older HDD? Get an SSD with at least 256GB of space for your operating system. You can still get an older HDD with over 3TB of space for all your sample libraries
This is the most crucial component in your computer. All the big DAWs need a lot of processing power for virtual instruments and signal processing. For music production, you need at least 4 processing cores to have a decent workflow. Otherwise, you will need to bounce every instrument and effect track when doing changes.
For Apple Macs Consider These Tips:
You should avoid Mac Mini’s. The new models come with only 2 processing cores. This might be quite alright with browsing the web and watching movies but for music production, this will only lead to frustration. If you really want a Mac Mini, then look out for the 2012 model with an Intel quad-core i7 (2.3 GHz). Although it’s 5 years old it will still have better performance with multiprocessing software like a DAW than a new one with only two cores.
Also avoid Macbooks with dual-core processors like the new “MacBook” and “MacBook Air”. Even the highest configuration leaves you with an Intel i7, that only has two cores. This is just too slow for modern DAW’s.
Avoid the old Mac Pro “Trashcan” Workstation. It’s too expensive and uses outdated Intel Xeon CPU’s from 2013. If you really want to spend a lot of money wait for the release of the new iMac Pro
With Intel CPUs, the iX number doesn’t always tell you the number of processing cores. Many people will think that when there’s an Intel i7 CPU the computer will be fast. This is not the case. Always look out for the description if it’s a dual-core or a quad-core CPU.
For example, an iMac already has four processing cores with an Intel i5 CPU.
So these are the configurations I would recommend for Apple Mac Computers. Higher specs are always better.
Minimal iMac Spec (September 2017):
- 3,0 GHz Quad‑Core Intel Core i5
- 8GB RAM (Upgrade it to 16!)
- 1TB HDD (don’t choose the HDD it’s too slow, instead get the 512GB SSD)
Minimal Macbook Pro Spec (September 2017):
- Avoid the 13” model altogether because it only offers dual core CPUs
- Get the 15” model
- 2,8 GHz Quad‑Core Intel Core i7
- 16GB RAM (already included)
- 256GB SSD (already included)
CPUs for PC Users:
Since I covered the basics of CPUs for Apple Macs here is some information on what CPUs you should get when buying/building a desktop computer or a windows laptop
Whether you’re going to buy a computer from a shop or build one yourself there is going to be a CPU that is tied to a special Chipset
For the newest Intel CPUs, there are two sockets that are common as of September 2017:
- Socket 1151 (Chipset Z370)
- Socket 2066 (Chipset X299)
Socket 1151 is the consumer product that offers Intel CPUs up to 6 cores. Socket 2066 is the enthusiast socket that is intended for professional use with workstations in the video, audio and CAD field with processors up to 18 cores
What socket you will choose depends on how much processing power you will need.
For socket 1151 consider these options:
- Intel i7 8700K – 6 Cores 3.7 GHz (Check Price)
- Intel i7 8700 – 6 Cores 3.2 GHz (Check Price)
- Intel i5 8600K – 6 Cores 3.6 GHz (Check Price)
- Intel i5 8400 – 6 Cores 2.8 GHz (Check Price)
If you’re on a budget the i5 8400 has the best price-performance ratio. If you don’t want to overclock your CPU you can save money by not getting the K version. This way you can save up to $100 on the i7 8700 compared to the 8700K version.
For socket 2066 consider these options:
- Intel i9 7900X – 10 Cores 3.3 GHz (Check Price)
- Intel i7 7820X – 8 Cores 3.6 GHz (Check Price)
- Intel i7 7800X – 6 Cores 3.5 GHz (Check Price)
I didn’t include the 2066-processors that had over 10 cores as I personally think it’s a waste of money and an overkill for audio production. But if you can afford them all power to you.
This list was included because even if you’re going to buy yourself a pre-built computer you have an orientation what to look for in a desktop
I will write up an entire audio computer building article in the future where I will explain certain things in more detail.
With laptops, you need to be aware of certain specialties among Intel CPUs.
You will often find Intel iX xxxxU – Ultra Low Power CPUs.
Avoid them at all costs! They usually have a much lower clock frequency because they are used in laptops with long battery life. Less processing power – More battery life, makes sense!
These are sometimes used in new Apple MacBook and MacBook Air laptops and that’s why I didn’t recommend them at the beginning of the article when I talked about Apple products.
- Intel Core i7 7500U
- Intel Core i5 4200U (older generation)
Instead, you need to look out for HQ – High Performance Graphics Quad Core or older generation QM – Quad Core Mobile processors like:
- Intel Core i7 7700HQ – As used in the Acer Predator Helios 300 (Check Price)
- Intel Core i7 6700HQ – Older generation CPU, look out for laptops on eBay
- Intel Core i7 4700HQ – “”
- Intel Core i7 3630QM – “”
Pro Tip: If you want to save money I can recommend you to look out for laptops on eBay with older generation CPUs that I’ve listed above. I usually always work on my 6-Core workstation but when I needed to move to another city I got myself a $200 laptop with the 3630QM CPU on eBay to work on the go.
There is only a 26% difference between the newest Intel Laptop CPU and my $200 laptop, since Intel didn’t improve their CPUs that much in the last few years.
RAM is very important when dealing with big sample libraries or Kontakt instruments. I would at least recommend 16GB of RAM for desktop computers and 8GB of Ram for Laptops.
With PCs, RAM is not a big of a deal because you can always upgrade it. It becomes a problem if you get a MAC with no option to upgrade the RAM or one of the newer Windows laptops where you need to disassemble the whole thing to put in a new stick of RAM
But if you can, go big with RAM!
Since the release of the Solid State Drive (SSD), there is absolutely no reason to use an older HDD in your computer (as a boot drive). HDD’s have mechanical parts that can break, have much slower reading and writing speeds and are more sensitive in terms of vibrations with higher failure rates.
SSDs will increase your workflow because the whole operating system feels much faster whether it’s MAC OSX or Windows. If you install your favorite DAW on the SSD Drive you obviously will profit from higher speeds and faster loading times.
The only time where I still would prefer a conventional HDD is when you have a lot of TBs of sample packs or Kontakt libraries. Sure you can buy 2TB SSDs and have ultra-fast loading times in Kontakt, but it will be just too expensive. On the other hand if you have that kind of money just go for SSDs only!
I would combine a 256GB or 512GB SSD with a 2TB or 4TB sample drive (can be an external drive) to lower costs.
Pro Tip: If you get a used laptop off eBay the best way to tune it is to throw out the HDD and put an SSD instead (Clone the data to your new SSD first). Another trick is to throw out the DVD drive (who needs a DVD drive in 2017 anyway) and install a 2nd drive for bigger sample libraries. This is exactly what I did with my recent laptop.
- Samsung 850 Pro 512 GB SSD – Operating System Drive(Check Price)
- Samsung 850 Pro 256 GB SSD – Operating System Drive (Check Price)
- Seagate BarraCuda 2TB HDD – Sample Drive (Check Price)
- DVD Caddy to install a 2nd drive – 9.5mm (Check Price)
- DVD Caddy to install a 2nd drive – 12.7mm (Check Price)
Please check your DVD drive if it’s 12.7mm or 9.5mm in height. The first DVD caddy I ordered for my laptop was too big.
I hope you learned what to look out for when buying a computer for audio work. If you got questions, post them in the comments section. I will update this guide regularly. A guide on how to build your first audio computer D.I.Y style will follow up shortly