Macs for Music Production

Best Mac for Music Production

Buyers Guide

 

Apple computers have long been a staple in the music industry. From young musicians dabbling with GarageBand on an old MacBook Pro, to industry pro’s working with large sample libraries on a top range iMac, the Mac is a great choice and popular for a reason.

Determining which Mac is best for you will depend on your level of usage, budget and whether you’d like a portable or desktop setup. In this article we’re going to help you understand what’s right for you!

 


Computer specifications explained

 

To understand a Mac's capabilities it’s helpful to understand a computer's specification - the components that make up the device. The main ones that concern running music software are the processor (CPU), memory and storage.


Processor (CPU)

The processor orchestrates all the tasks performed by the hardware and software that make up your Mac. The processors will affect how fast your projects run and will minimise crashing and lags.

Comparing processor performance can be tricky as you need to consider a number of factors, for example the generation of the processor, number of cores, clock-speed (GHz), i5, i7 or i9?! When comparing processors, benchmark scores are incredibly useful as they reflect real world performance. We include Geekbench scores on all of our item descriptions to help with this, if you’d like to know more about this check out our recent article, here.


Memory (RAM)

The more memory you choose, the more apps or tasks you can run simultaneously and with a higher rate of performance. Nowadays memory typically ranges from:


Storage

There are two things to consider with storage; what type, and how much. Macs are available with traditional Serial ATA (SATA) hard drives, speedy solid state drives (SSDs) and Fusion Drives.

SSD storage delivers significantly improved performance compared to a traditional hard drive - speed you’ll notice when you start up your Mac, launch an app or work within an app like Logic or Ableton. SSDs have been a standard feature in MacBook Pro’s since the Retina models were introduced in 2012.

The Fusion Drive combines speedy SSD storage with a high-capacity hard drive. macOS intelligently manages what goes where, using the SSD storage for files and apps you access frequently and keeping the rest of your digital life on the roomier hard drive. Fusion Drives are available in iMacs and older generation Mac mini's.

How much storage you need is a question you will have to ask yourself. It’s worth considering this prior to purchase as Mac computers are not designed to be upgraded. If you do need more storage with a current Mac, you can consider external storage and cloud storage such as iCloud, Dropbox or Google Drive.

 


Ports

A final point to be aware of is the ports on your Mac.

Apple’s MacBook Pro from 2016 onwards and the MacBook Air from 2018 onwards have Thunderbolt 3 (USB-C) ports along with the headphone jack. If you need alternative connectivity, for example an older style USB-A port you would need an adapter.

The iMac and Mac mini models have a wider selection of ports, including Thunderbolt 3 (USB-C), USB-A and ethernet so are worth considering if you have a fixed place setup.

Apple have a great roundup on the different ports, their shapes and symbols which you can see on the link here: Identify the ports on your Mac


What about the M1 Silicon Processor?

Apple’s newly released M1 chip has been introduced in the 13-inch MacBook Air, 13-inch MacBook Pro, Mac mini, and most recently the 24-inch iMac. This new chip looks to pack a punch with CPU and GPU performance increases as well as other developments. For software to run natively and smoothly on M1 machines, software developers need to update their software for this new architecture. Apple’s Logic Pro X and GarageBand should run happily, however other software makers are playing catch up at the moment. Issues may also occur with these models if you are using older software and plug-ins, so this needs to be considered if you are planning on going down this route.

 


Beginner

  • Smaller project files (3-4 MB in size).
  • Small podcasts 1-2 track recording.
  • "GarageBand" style recordings, 2-3 track recording including stock DAW mixing VSTs (For example, Logic's Compressor or EQ).
  • Minimal software synths (VSTs) in use, maximum 3-4 tracks. Large sample library synths, for example Kontakt should be avoided.

The majority of Macs from 2015 onwards with 8GB memory will be suitable for beginners. One thing to note is that the latest version of GarageBand currently requires macOS 11 Big Sur which is available on the iMac from 2014 onwards, MacBook Air from 2013 onwards and the MacBook Pro and Mac Pro from 2013 onwards.

 


Our Top Picks

 

MacBook Pro 13-inch Core i5 2.3GHz (Mid 2017)

 

iMac 21-inch Core i5 2.8GHz (Late 2015) Grade B

 

Mac Mini Core i5 2.6GHz (Late 2014) Grade B


Intermediate

  • Semi-professional band recordings.
  • Live sound engineers
  • Moderate software synths and plugins, this also includes aforementioned use of Kontakt sample libraries.
  • Use of third party mixing VSTs (for example FabFilter and Izotope)

We’d recommend Macs from 2017 onwards with 16GB memory, quad-core processors, and Fusion Drives or SSDs for the best performance, for example:


Our Top Picks

 

MacBook Pro 13-inch Core i5 1.4GHz Touch Bar (2019) / 16GB RAM

 

MacBook Pro 15-inch Core i7 2.2GHz Pro 555X 4GB (Mid 2018) Grade B

 

iMac 4K 21-inch Core i5 3.0GHz (Mid 2017) Grade B / 256GB SSD / 16GB RAM

 

iMac 5K Retina 27-inch Core i5 3.4GHz, Pro 570 (Mid 2017) Grade B / 16GB RAM / 1TB Fusion Drive

 

Mac Mini Core i3 3.6GHz (Late 2018) Grade B / 16GB RAM / 128GB SSD

 

Mac Mini Core i5 3.0GHz (Late 2018) Grade B / 16GB RAM / 256GB SSD


Advanced

  • Use of large sample libraries.
  • Multiple microphone recording sessions.
  • Heavy use of multiple VST instruments and effects plugins.
  • Use of more than one DAW at a time.

We’d recommend 15 or 16-inch MacBook Pros from 2018 onwards and iMacs from 2017 onwards with 32GB RAM or more, SSD storage.

The 2018 i5 and i7 Mac mini's also pack a punch and are worth considering. These models will have modern multi-core processors, can be specified with sufficient memory and speedy SSD storage.

Dedicated graphics memory can be required in high level work which is available in the MacBook Pro and 27-inch iMac models. The Mac Pro is of course a top contender if you have the budget!


Our Top Picks

 

MacBook Pro 15-inch Core i7 2.2GHz Pro 555X 4GB (Mid 2018) Grade B / 32GB RAM

 

MacBook Pro 16-inch Core i9 2.3GHz (Space Grey, 2019) Grade B / 32GB RAM

 

iMac 5K Retina 27-inch Core i7 4.2GHz, Pro 580 (Mid 2017) / 32GB RAM / 512GB SSD

 

Mac Mini Core i7 3.2GHz (Late 2018) Grade B / 32GB RAM

 

iMac 4K 21-inch Core i5 3.4GHz Pro 560 (Mid 2017) / 32GB RAM / 256GB SSD

 

iMac 5K Retina 27-inch Core i5 3.1GHz (2020) 32GB RAM / 256GB SSD

 

As always, if you have any questions feel free to contact us by email or call us 0208 819 3244 for friendly, expert advice.

 

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