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Creating, performing and producing music has never been easier or easier. If you have one of the best laptops for music production, you can access the technology that professional studios possess in just a few steps. From full-sized ‘band-in-a-box’ tools to massive multi-track recording environments, the things you can do now with just a quality laptop are incredible.
Good Laptops For Music Production
We think it’s a great hobby that we want to share. This guide outlines some tips for choosing a laptop for performing and making music in your home recording studio. Read on to learn everything you need to know about the specs, how to optimize it for recording, and tips on specific details to consider when choosing a laptop for recording music.
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Our team of expert musicians and producers spend hours testing products to help you choose the best music-making gear for you. Read more about how we test.
When choosing a laptop for recording music, you need certain things to get it. The key to them is clean and flawless performance. Fancy features like branded speakers, touch screens or 4K resolution are nice to have, but not essential for a music production laptop. These are the processor, RAM and storage media. Each of these components determines how much work you can do and how quickly you can do it.
The processor controls how fast the laptop processes things and how many of those things it can do at the same time. Virtual instruments, plug-ins, and other processing tasks use the CPU, and you’ll quickly find that things grind to a halt if the CPU isn’t up to the task at hand. Intel Core i5 and above or AMD Ryzen 5 and above will give you enough juice to handle most tasks.
RAM determines how much information is stored in the laptop’s short-term memory. This is reflected in how many audio tracks you can have in your arrangement or how many individual samples you can use. Ideally, you want more than 8GB for this. Anything less and you’ll find that working with digital audio workstations (DAWs) can be a painful experience. It’s also worth considering whether this can be updated in the future, which is a simple enough task but has a huge impact on performance.
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Finally, the storage medium is probably the least important of the three factors we’ve described, but definitely one to consider. Although traditional hard disk drives (HDDs) can store large amounts of files and data, they are not the fastest when it comes to getting the data you need. To that end, you’ll want to look for SSDs that offer very fast data transfer speeds. So, for example, you can store large sample libraries and stream them to your DAW without stuttering or other issues.
Ah, finance, cruel mistress. While we’d all love to spec a high-end Apple MacBook Pro, there are certain financial realities that most of us have to deal with. That’s why it’s important to have an idea of how much you’re willing to pay before you go shopping online. Our guide to choosing a budget laptop shows some great options at the lower end of the scale, but as with anything, you get what you pay for. For us, the jump in performance once you get past the $500/£ mark makes it a good place for a basic machine suitable for music production.
As mentioned above, it’s worth considering what you want to use the laptop for. If purchased for music production only, please follow the specifications. Get all the CPU, RAM, and storage you can out of your hard-earned cash and ignore those fancy headline-grabbing features. Touch screens and aesthetics are great, but not at the expense of performance.
However, go for SSD over HDD whenever possible, and for connectivity it’s safe to assume that peripherals and external devices like MIDI keyboards and audio jacks will move to USB-C in the future, so make sure you are well equipped. in those areas.
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Also consider battery life. Although many, if not most, studios that use laptops put them in a static location, the benefits of portability should not be overlooked. Throwing your entire studio setup into a backpack and working on, say, a beach or a mountain is a liberating experience that you can’t do with a desktop computer.
The relationship between hardware and software is strongly intertwined in music production. A laptop is only as good as the software it runs, and the software is only as good as the laptop lets it run. Apple has a clear advantage here because Logic Pro X, its proprietary DAW, is specifically designed to work only with Apple’s operating system and as such improves performance. Everything just works.
On the other hand, Windows-based laptops still have a wide variety to choose from, including Avid’s Ableton Live, Cubase, and Pro Tools, each with their pros and cons. Apple apps aside, any decent laptop should be able to handle projects from any major DAW. That leaves you with another decision, which we’ll cover here.
It’s reasonable to ask yourself how long you expect (or expect) to leave the laptop. Technology is developing so quickly these days, and it’s easy to get caught up in the competition, where there’s always the fastest and most powerful machine. It’s worth checking whether the laptop you’ve chosen can be upgraded in the future.
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Windows-based machines, especially those in the gaming domain, often allow the user to upgrade individual components such as RAM or storage without too much effort. However, music production is still possible on older computers using the methods we’ve described here.
While the laptop itself is the brains of the operation, there are certainly other elements you’ll want to turn on to get the most out of your technology. The audio interface, which outsources the audio processing capabilities of the laptop, allows you to connect audio inputs (instruments and microphones) to audio outputs such as studio monitors and headphones.
Similarly, external devices such as keyboard controllers and grooveboxes such as Native Instruments’ Maschinen can expand the capabilities of your rig. USB acts as a gateway here, so you’ll need to make sure you have good connections to your laptop or that the equipment in question can work through a hub; not all devices will work, so be sure to do your research first.
Sound driver compatibility is important in music production. Most audio devices and software you use use ASIO drivers for audio playback, which may vary by laptop. When working properly, they enable low-latency recording and performance, which means near-instant feedback on what you’re playing and what your laptop is listening to. When they don’t, they can be a nightmare full of pops, cracks, glitches and timing issues.
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In our experience, Apple has the upper hand when it comes to controls and requires little effort or thought. Windows, on the other hand, can be complicated and sometimes requires a bit of discussion to solve certain problems. That’s great, even rewarding, if you’re hands-on with computers, but if the thought of wrestling with the settings leaves you cold, we suggest you seriously consider which platform you choose.
As with any large purchase, our advice is simple. Identify what you’re trying to achieve and start describing what’s important, what’s just a “nice to have,” and what you can live without. For a hobbyist who wants to dabble in songwriting and recording while performing standard laptop functions like email and video calling, a Windows machine with the specs we’ve discussed above will do just fine. For more serious or advanced users, we recommend more powerful Windows laptops such as the Dell XPS series, or commit to the Apple ecosystem with the MacBook Pro.
For us, producing music is one of the most rewarding ways to express your creativity. The technology we choose to work with should ideally work quietly in the background, facilitating our work without ever being the center of attention. If you do your research, as you do, and make the right choices, you should end up with a laptop that will serve you well for the foreseeable future.
Chris Corfield is a journalist with over 12 years experience writing for some of the biggest brands in the music world including Orange Amplification, Guitar World Total Guitar and Dawsons Music. Chris enjoys tinkering with everything from guitar and bass gear to synthesizers, microphones, DJ equipment and music production equipment.
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