Computer Good For Music Production – Hello good citizens of the Internet! My name is Deks and for the past 15 years I have been an IT/Operations Manager in San Francisco. Which means we are a sound production school and studio – I have experience with computers and sound. My main job is to make sure that technological problems get out of the way of creativity in the labs and studios. Nothing kills your creativity like unexpected error notifications, unauthorized plug-ins and random crashes.
We’re primarily a Mac store so I focus a lot on Mac because that’s where my expertise lies. Although most of these tips can be used on PCs as well.
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So what are we going to cover? We are starting from scratch like buying a computer. Laptop vs desktop? What’s the difference between all the options available from how much ram, to what hard drive, to how to keep your machine nice and smooth.
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The computer is the backbone of any modern audio production system. That’s where all the “magic” happens and it needs to be top notch. Mainly because you want to keep technology issues out of the way of your creativity and want to get the most out of your investment. Computers can last a very long time with proper care and maintenance. I was able to run our labs and studios for a very long time without the need for frequent refreshes and returned our investment tenfold!
It really comes down to mobility vs performance. Normally, from a dollar to performance perspective – a computer will beat a laptop. Laptops are expensive to design and manufacture to save space, power and cooling, to name a few. Desktops have a lot of freedom for many things because space is not an issue. That means more slots for components, more ports, bigger power supplies, etc. – you get the idea. Since desktops have more space, they are more powerful than laptops. All that being said…
Apple products have some restrictions because most of the components are integrated and limited by the T2 chip. They use what is called a closed system – where they maintain control over everything they do in order to control the user experience. (There has been some controversy about that especially for Apple’s third-party service shops and the right to repair, but we won’t get into that here.) It means that if you get a Mac, mostly- holo laptop – you have to ride a horse. for the most RAM, CPU, GPU and storage you can afford when shopping. iMacs and Mac Minis still have options to add more RAM later, so I recommend upgrading from mail order. Mac Pros also have a lot of options but third-party options are limited compared to PCs.
For PC – It’s kind of different as an open source system and there are TONS of options out there and it overwhelms a good number of people, myself included. Even for audio production – you probably don’t need the latest VR/AR/AI GFX card, liquid/gas cooled CPU, espresso case or whatever (Playing Minecraft.. .). The basics are still in place which brings us to:
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This will hurt your wallet at first, but with time you will get used to it. Back in 2013 when I got my MacBook Pro – 16GB of ram seemed like overkill. Now it’s 2020 and I have Chrome, Slack, Apple Remote Desktop and iTunes running and I’m down to 12 GB. 16GB seems to be the norm now. (Okay, I have about 52 Chrome tabs open, but still…) The point is – you want to future proof your machine, especially if it’s a laptop. 7 years later I can still do things on this machine without getting mad at my other apps because it’s so slow. Let’s see how many years I’ve been saying that… But yes, even more. Ram helps with the snappiness of the OS and apps – especially when using samples like Kontakt.
PCs – this is where going with a PC can save you $$$ first. Since the components are freely interchangeable – you can start with just what you need and upgrade as needed.
Mechanical hard drives are obsolete – only use them for cheap storage. SSDs are now available for purchase. As for the SSD – 1TB is generally enough, which is standard on all new MBPs now from Apple. (Currently, adding an 8TB SSD upgrade to a 16″ MBP is an extra $2200! 💸😭) Even if you can get a new, used MBP with a 500GB drive, as long as you have your large download libraries and photos /vids. to drive out; You should be good to go for a good time.
Fusion drives are actually two separate drives, an SSD and an OG mechanical hard drive, but the software merges them into a single volume. Things like your OS and apps go to the SSD for faster access, and other things like photos/vids and things that aren’t easily accessible go to the HDD. I’m not a big fan of these drives because if one of them fails, the whole thing will be saved. HDD’s are such a failsafe – I recommend going for a full SSD.
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Not to say you’re doomed if you go with Fusion Drive, but buyer beware. Some people can’t face problems, while some people don’t. AFAIK – Logik and other DAWs work too, but remember that ymmv.
OK, CPU’s – Which one should you go with? Well – what kind of things do you do? For most people a mid-range option like the i5 would be enough. Internet browsing, light photo and video editing, office work can easily be done with an i3 or i5 and the machine would last a few years. But we are not many people are we? We’re audio people damn it! Go for as fast as possible but at least i7 quad-core. Want to be able to put Altiverb Reverbs on all your Serum / Massive tracks and make 2 hour tutorial videos with After Effects in less than 10 minutes? Joking aside – the CPU helps with data processing. So if you use tons of effects, synths, visuals – things that mean crazy numbers – you need a badass CPU.
CPU speed hangs around 3-4 Ghz for a while. This is due to how small circuits we can currently make. So, rotate this line with other cores. A core IS a processor so the more you have, the more you can process at the same time. So yes, at least 4 for us listeners. Fun fact: Mac Pro comes with 28 cores! Buuut it’s also an extra $7000! 💸💸💸
I congratulate you! (I didn’t get it right when I said it – it’s not like you have a child; but hey very close – you’ll treat it like anyone else.) You can do a few things.
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Fresh Start – You can start by installing a fresh OS and install all your apps, plug-ins, libraries, accounts, etc. BUT some people find it fun to start from scratch. It sounds “cleaner” because you don’t have digital crud on your first machine. It’s a very Zen thing.
Use Setup Assistant – You can remove your items from your old drive or backup with Setup Assistant or Migration Assistant to restore your account settings, applications, computer settings, and files. The best part about macOS is that the file format allows users to have their own “home” folders. (Thanks to BSD Unix) And it lives everything related to the user. So things like user preferences, computer, documents, downloads, photos, movies and music are all there. These migration tools also try to import all your compatible devices, but if there are incompatible devices – such as 32-bit devices, they all end up in a folder unsurprisingly called ” Incompatible Software”. You can choose for desktop settings, like desktop wallpaper, wifi settings, etc. and your app documents.
Connecting your old Mac to a new Mac is tricky because the OS that comes pre-installed on your new Mac is a special hardware build. In fact, if you flashed your old drive directly to the new one, it might not boot because that OS “build” is old and therefore incompatible. Likewise – if you have a clone of your old car on the outside and try to boot from there, it probably won’t work.
TBH, that will suck. You can return the model that the machine was shipped with. So if you get