How to Choose the Best MacBook for Music Production
In this article, we’ll give you some great tips on how to choose a Mac for music-making.
In a nutshell, we believe the top three of the best Macs for music production 2020 are:
- 27-inch 5K iMac—the best choice for music production
- 16-inch MacBook Pro—the best portable laptop
- Mac mini—the best budget Mac
Read further to find out why these models are the best computers for creating music!
With computers being the heart of modern music making, there’s no need to rent costly studios to record your tracks. Nowadays you can apply all your desired effects and polish tracks with your home laptop—especially if you know which computers are best for the purpose.
Music creators are drawn to Macs and for good reason—Macs are the most likely computers to become your right hand in high-quality music production.
In this article, we’ll cover the main aspects you should consider when buying a Mac for music production, and get our recommendations on how to choose between the top three Macs for musicians in 2020.
We’ll tell you all about:
- What’s best for musicians—Mac or PC?
- Recommended system requirements
- The best Macs for making music
- Things to consider before buying a Mac for music production
- Mac music software
What’s best for musicians—Mac or PC?
Choosing between macOS and a Windows platform depends largely on your computer preferences and your collaborators. With the fast development of technology, the PC is right behind Mac. However, it's easier to get started making music on a Mac than on a PC. We’ll tell you why.
The standard audio drivers on a PC won’t do for professional music creation. A Windows user would most likely need to install extra ASIO drivers for their sound card and any other music hardware that they want to use, like MIDI controllers, then install the music software they want to use as Windows provides no native music apps so far.
However, a Mac user can just plug in their music hardware and launch the GarageBand app—Apple's free pre-installed DAW (digital audio workstation) available on Macs, iPhones, and iPads. It's a personal music creation studio for recording and editing multi-track audio as well as composing and experimenting with a vast array of virtual instruments, effects, and loops. Continue reading to learn more about this tool.
Recommended system requirements
The tech specs of the Mac you choose depend largely on the type of software you are planning to use and the complexity of your music projects. Make sure you know in advance the sample rate and bit depth you’re going to work at as well as the number of tracks and instrument voices you are planning to use on a regular basis.
The next step is to check the official system requirements for the program(s) you are going to run. This will help you determine the minimum required specs your Mac should have.
As a rule, for comfortable music production on Mac, you should have at least a 2.2Ghz i7 quad-core processor; it affects how fast your projects run (especially if they're huge). You will require at least 16GB of RAM, which is bare minimum as music production on Macs is a memory-extensive process. If you have less than 16 GB of RAM you’ll be able to use fewer instrument voices and your speed will decrease dramatically. As the basic configurations of the majority of Macs offer 8GB of RAM by default, consider some add-on options.
Most of all, your storage needs will depend on the size of the audio material you expect to work with. Professional software and various instruments for music production can use hundreds of gigabytes on your Mac, so the basic 256GB SSDs on some Apple laptops might be enough for starters. Still, you can consider some external storage options for your Mac in the future.
While video cards have always been essential for video editing and playing games, some of the latest audio software is GPU-accelerated as well. Pay attention to the type of video card required by your audio software and whether you’ll need to connect any additional displays.
Note: Keep in mind that the basic specifications listed are a minimum for music production software to function normally on a Mac. If you're ready to pay extra, we recommend getting the highest performance machine you can afford.
The best Macs for music production
We’ve researched the topic to compile the best Macs for music production. Here are our leaders:
27-inch 5K iMac—the best choice for music production
Being updated with new hardware in 2019, the 27-inch 5K iMac would be a reasonably high-end machine for home studios. Its RAM can be customized up to 64GB, and with the advanced processor, you’ll be able to use all the functions of professional audio editing programs. The big Retina display will make work with complex editing software more comfortable compared to smaller options. Besides, you’ll have four USB 3 ports together with two Thunderbolt 3/USB Type C ports at your disposal.
|27-inch 5K iMac Specs|
3.1GHz 6‑core Intel Core i5 (Turbo Boost up to 4.3GHz)
Configurable to 3.6GHz 8-core Intel Core i9 (Turbo Boost up to 5.0GHz)
Radeon Pro 575X with 4GB of GDDR5 memory
8GB (two 4GB) of 2666MHz DDR4 memory, four SO-DIMM slots, user-accessible
Configurable to 16GB, 32GB, or 64GB
27-inch diagonal Retina 5K display
1TB (5400-rpm) hard drive
Configurable to 1TB Fusion Drive or 256GB, 512GB, or 1TB SSD
16-inch MacBook Pro—the best portable laptop
If you’re a touring musician—MacBook Pro with a 16-inch display is just for you! It’s powerful even in the basic configuration, and the Touch Bar is especially useful when you need to record music and change settings at the same time. With 4.3 pounds (2.0 kg)) of weight, MacBook Pro has a major advantage for musicians who are always on the road.
|16-inch MacBook Pro specs|
2.6GHz 6‑core Intel Core i7, Turbo Boost up to 4.5GHz, with 12MB shared L3 cache
Configurable to 2.4GHz 8‑core Intel Core i9, Turbo Boost up to 5.0GHz, with 16MB shared L3 cache
AMD Radeon Pro 5300M with 4GB of GDDR6 memory and automatic graphics switching
Intel UHD Graphics 630
Configurable to AMD Radeon Pro 5500M with 4GB of GDDR6 memory, AMD Radeon Pro 5500M with 8GB of GDDR6 memory, or AMD Radeon Pro 5600M with 8GB of HBM2 memory
16GB of 2666MHz DDR4 onboard memory
Configurable to 32GB or 64GB of memory
16‑inch diagonal LED‑backlit display with IPS technology
Configurable to 1TB, 2TB, 4TB, or 8TB SSD
Mac mini—the best budget Mac
Why is Mac mini also on the list of the best Macs for music production? Mac mini had an update in March 2020 bringing in a 256GB SSD. Besides, it is a good choice if your budget is limited. What’s great about Mac mini is a small size, an additional audio-in port, In addition to this, this model can be customized with a more powerful processor and bigger RAM. But be ready to purchase a display, a keyboard, and a mouse to go with your Mac mini model.
|Mac mini specs|
4-Core, 3.6GHz quad-core Intel Core i3, 6MB shared L3 cache
Configurable to 6-Core, 3.2GHz 6-core Intel Core i7, Turbo Boost up to 4.6GHz, 12MB, shared L3 cache
Intel UHD Graphics 630
8GB of 2666MHz DDR4 SO-DIMM memory
Configurable to 16GB, 32GB, or 64GB
|The display is purchased additionally|
256GB PCIe-based SSD
Configurable to 512GB, 1TB, or 2TB SSD
Things to consider before buying a Mac for music production
When choosing the best computer for music production, consider these two key factors:
Among the first things to consider when deciding which Mac to choose is to think over whether you need a desktop computer or a laptop. The latter option is the best decision for musicians who work in many different locations and want to keep everything they need for work in one place.
Using a lot of additional instruments such as monitors, headphones, USB instruments, and other audio interfaces is essential. That’s why a limited number of USB ports might become an issue. Do check and compare the Connections sections when reviewing Mac specifications.
Mac music software
Here are our 2020 picks for the best apps for music-making on a Mac:
- If you're only getting started making music, GarageBand (especially the iOS version) has Smart Instruments that let you create a great-sounding drum, guitar, synth, or even orchestral parts without having to know how to play the instruments. GarageBand version 10.3 is full of surprises. New sound effects and instrument sounds and 1000 electronic and urban loops at your disposal are just the beginning. The Artist Lessons are finally free for those craving to learn songs taught by famous artists.
- Logic Pro X is called GarageBand's "companion" and is, in fact, Apple's professional audio software. If you're an electronic musician and want to experiment with sound, you might opt for Logic Pro X. The great news is that you can get a 90-day free trial. However, you’ll need to run macOS 10.14.6 (macOS Mojave) or later. Moreover, this app is rather resource-consuming, so the best MacBook for Logic Pro X is either a 13-inch MacBook Pro or a 16-inch model.
- Ableton Live 10 makes your DJ experience really smooth. Being a DAW it offers empowered MIDI sequencing hardware and software. With this app working on MIDI controllers is hustle-free now.
- PreSonus Studio One 4 Prime is for you if you’re still deciding whether you’re just at the beginning of your music-making career. It is free! A perfect app to start creating music with. Being a full-scale digital studio it offers the Artist and Pro editions and an improved drum editor to make your instrument editing workflow easier.
- Cakewalk SONAR Mac Prototype is another free app used to be available on Windows only. However, now it can be installed on a Mac too.
- A few other notable Apple apps for musicians are MainStage 3 (a rig of effects and virtual instruments for live performance) and Music Memos (an iOS app similar to voice memos that are tailored to music drafting and integrate nicely with GarageBand when using it on Mac).
How to prepare your Mac for music recording?
Recording music does sound like a high-load process for your Mac. Full storage, apps responding longer than usual, or a spinning wheel on your screen may slow you down. So how to get back to productive work?
For starters, it's always a good idea to clean RAM memory. The rule applies—the more memory available, the faster your Mac should run. Memory Cleaner feature in MacKeeper frees up RAM memory with just a few clicks and lets you know which apps may be eating up memory without you even knowing it.
Another thing that may hamper music recording is the lack of free space. Music-making requires some extra gigabytes at hand, so you can use such MacKeeper tools as Safe Cleanup and Duplicates Finder to scan your Mac for old copies of files, caches, or apps leftovers and safely remove them.
We hope our guide helped you choose the proper computer for music-making. Now go and grab your instrument or mic, plug it to your new Mac, and get rockin’!