The computer is the hub of the digital recording studio, so you’ll want to make sure you get the appropriate one for the job. Luckily, there isn’t a single best computer for music production, but rather a number of choices based on intended use, budget, and more.
Understanding Music Production Computers: Laptop vs Desktop
Computers for music production have to be powerful enough to host all the software you want to use without seizing up. That, and being able to comfortably handle multitrack recording. The specs really don’t have to be insane, but you should shoot for at least a quad-core processor, at least 16GB of RAM, and as much storage as you think you need; consider whether this will be a dedicated computer for music, or a multipurpose machine.
For reference, I’m running Pro Tools 2019.6.0 on a late 2016 13″ MacBook Pro with 16GB memory; an Intel Core i5 2.9GHz dual-core processor; and 1TB SSD. Thus far, I haven’t encountered any issues with power that have prohibited me from getting my work done. I typically work with smaller hip-hop/rap sessions (usually 40-50 total tracks, including all of my aux returns), though I’ve worked on 80+ track sessions with minimal stress. Any moderately powerful 2023 machine should be able to handle music production in the home studio.
The next consideration is Mac vs. PC. Mac is still the industry-standard in professional studios, but lots of engineers prefer Windows if they’re more accustomed to that operating system. If you plan to run an OS-exclusive DAW like Logic (Mac) or Cakewalk by Bandlab (Windows), then that makes the decision for you. But overall, most mainstream software is cross-platform these days.
Finally, you should decide whether you want a laptop or desktop. Laptops tend to be pricier than equally-specced desktops, and you can often spec a more powerful desktop for less money than a laptop. Portability is a huge draw for on-the-go producers and engineers, though, so if you find yourself working in multiple locations, go for the laptop. If you just want a fixture in your home studio, desktop is a good bet.
3 Best Laptops for Music Production
1. 16″ MacBook Pro (M1 Max)
This is the universal laptop for creators, and has been for many years now. The current generation of 16″ MacBook Pros are insane, and at the top of the line is the laptop with the M1 Max chip. Standard specs offer a 10-core CPU, 32-core GPU, 16-core Neural engine, 32GB memory, and a 1TB SSD. This particular machine starts at $3499.
2. 13″ MacBook Pro (M1)
A more budget-friendly MacBook Pro is the current line of 13″ laptops. These are capable computers for music production, no doubt about it. Featuring the 8-core CPU, 8-core GPU, 16-core Neural engine M1 chip, 8GB memory, and 512GB SSD, it can handle quite heavy loads. Upgrading the memory to 16GB might be worth it, bringing the total to $1699.
3. ASUS ZenBook Pro Duo 15
For PC lovers, here’s one of the best laptops for music production (and gaming!). Starting specs include an Intel Core i7-10879H 8-core CPU, 16GB memory, GeForce RTX 3070 GPU, 1TB SSD, and a gorgeous OLED 4K UHD touch display. This thing is a monster and can easily double as a gaming and music production rig. It currently starts at $2399.
3 Best Desktops for Music Production
For professional applications, various generations of the Mac Pro have been industry standard (the Trashcan is still a common pro studio computer). If budget really is no option because you’re speccing out a professional working studio, then we’d be remiss not to mention it here. For the rest of us, we’ll look at more practical choices for desktops.
1. Mac Studio (M1 Max)
The new Mac Studio is the more powerful successor to the Mac Mini. Its M1 Max chip provides a 10-core CPU, 24-core CPU, and 16-core Neural engine. Pair that with standard 32GB memory and 512TB SSD. This little beast packs a punch and starts at just $1999. Be aware you’ll need peripherals, including keyboard, mouse, and monitor.
2. Mac Mini (M1)
This has got to be one of the best budget-friendly Mac desktop computers there is. The capable M1 chip has an 8-core CPU, 8-core GPU, and 16-core Neural engine, with 16GB memory and 1TB SSD. Those specs will run you $1299. Again, be aware you’ll need peripherals, including keyboard, mouse, and monitor.
3. Custom-Built PC
There are a plethora of off-the-shelf desktop PCs with enough juice to handle music production. Many of them are quite affordable, as well, but it’s hard to point to a single choice as the “best.” Rather, I’d recommend having a custom PC built according to your needs, specs, and budget (or building one yourself, if you’d like). You can achieve everything you need for an optimized, powerful machine at a great price.
PowerGPU is just one of many reputable custom builders out there that comes to mind (not a sponsored shout out!).
Conclusion: Best Computer for Music Production
The best computer for music production depends on your individual needs. Going for a MacBook Pro is never a bad choice, though neither is grabbing a powerful music/gaming PC laptop. The new Mac Studio is a gorgeous desktop, and a custom-built PC is worthy of envy.