What Are The Best Laptops For Music Production – A laptop may be essential for live music performances, but which one is best for programs like Sonic Pi and Max/MSP? Photo: Vince Bucci/Fox/PictureGroup/Rex/Shutterstock
I’m a musician and software developer looking to get into the world of live and electronic coding using software like Sonic Pi and maybe, in the future, Max/MSP by Cycling 74. Most people seem to be using an Apple MacBook Pro, but I’ve always been a Windows user and I develop software on Windows using Visual Studio, so I’m reluctant to switch to Mac. However, every time I tried to get a good setup for creating music on Windows, I was plagued with lag issues. From what I’ve read online, it seems that the Windows audio drivers, while improved with Windows 10, still lag far behind those in macOS. I have a Roland Duo-Capture EX and an older Novation X-Station, and I’m happy to use one of them as part of my setup, but I’d like a system that’s portable enough to use easily. Finally, a touchscreen would make a lot of sense for less code-based interactions—ideally one where the screen can be laid flat, like the Lenovo Yoga series or Microsoft Surface Pro. miles
What Are The Best Laptops For Music Production
Your best bet would be to find and nurture some of the people who compose and/or perform using Windows laptops – there are plenty of them! – and ask for advice. Areas like this tend to involve tacit knowledge that you just learn by doing things for a while, and I’ve never done that.
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If not, there are probably some websites or online communities that specialize in this topic. I haven’t found any, but people heavily involved in this area will know where they are. That’s another question for readers to answer in the comments below…
However, you might want to think about your overall strategy. My understanding is that you want to do everything on a laptop, which may mean taking your work machine into dangerous nightclub-style environments. This gives you the worst of both worlds.
Laptops are not the best choice for long-term tasks like coding because they have poor ergonomics. You should use a desktop – which will run faster and last longer for less money – with an ergonomic keyboard and a large screen. For the price of a properly specced MacBook Pro, you could probably buy a desktop PC for programming and a used MacBook for presentations.
Using a desktop computer would allow you to add a suitable sound card and avoid most if not all Windows driver issues by using Kernel Streaming or Steinberg’s ASIO (Audio Stream Input/Output) that ships with some devices, or ASIO4ALL. Of course, you can also replace your old Roland with an external USB sound card. This should provide better sound quality on the laptop, as well as – hopefully – reduce the risk of latency issues.
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Sam Aaron’s open source Sonic Pi program is written for the Raspberry Pi, so any PC or Mac should be able to run it well enough. It’s a very simple system where you specify a note just by typing in a number, but it becomes very powerful when the “note” is a pattern. It reminds me of the logo language, where you can run simple instructions to create attractive patterns. I bet Terry Riley would love it.
Max/MSP (Max Signal Processing and/or Miller Smith Puckette) by Cycling 74, now owned by Ableton, is a different kettle of bouillabaisse. It’s a visual programming language where you can link objects (program routines) together to create huge data flow diagrams.
The Cycling 74 website recommends an Intel Core i5 or faster processor and 8GB or more memory to run Max 8, which “includes MSP, Jitter, Gen and Max for Live support.” (Interestingly, “ASIO compatible sound card recommended for optimal audio performance” with Max 6 is dropped.)
Most DAWs (digital audio workstation programs) do require 16GB of RAM, and some do better with 32GB (Pro Tools). Max 8 graphics jitter seems to be the main challenge though, and the helpful Cycling 74 user forum has at least one example of someone running Max on a tiny 4GB Core m3 Intel Compute Stick.
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Apple’s MacBook Pro or Microsoft’s Surface Book or Surface Pro might be good options, but neither can be upgraded after purchase. Composer: Samuel Gibbs
You didn’t mention budget, but the best MacBook option right now is the 13-inch MacBook Pro with a 2.3GHz seventh-generation Core i5, 8GB of memory and 128GB (£1,249) or 256GB (£1,449) of SSD storage. A system with 16GB of memory and a 256GB SSD would therefore cost £1,629. Adding three years of AppleCare – a good idea given the keyboard’s past failures – brings it to £1,878.
One of the biggest problems with the current MacBook Pros is that you can’t upgrade them: you have to buy everything you need up front and pay Apple prices. If you buy a Windows laptop, you can choose one with more configuration options that you can upgrade later.
My current choice is the 14-inch Lenovo ThinkPad T480S with an eighth-generation Core i5-8250U 3.4GHz processor. A basic system with 8GB of memory, a 128GB SSD, Windows 10 and a three-year service would cost you £1,189.99. Expanding that to 16GB of storage and a 256GB SSD brings the price to £1,279.59, but there’s a lot more choice. In fact, you can choose between four processors, up to Core i7-8650U, four RAM capacities up to 24 GB, four SSD sizes up to 1TB and four different screens up to WQHD (2560 x 1440 pixels). If you want a touchscreen, it’s an extra £46.80.
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One option I would definitely take is upgrading the warranty to three years of on-site service for an extra £63.60. Lenovo offers up to five years of on-site service for £225.60.
There’s also a slightly cheaper and slightly larger version, the ThinkPad T480, which starts at £949.99. This gives you even more options. It has a traditional 2.5-inch drive bay – the base model has a 500GB hard drive – so you can have two drives. It also has two memory slots instead of one, so you can have up to 32 GB of memory. These are real advantages when you can remove and upgrade parts later.
The T480 and T480S don’t have the 360-degree hinges that would work like tablets, but they do rotate 180 degrees so you can lay them flat.
The Lenovo Yoga range isn’t built or tested to the same standards as the ThinkPad T series, but prices start at £199.99. However, the top-end Yoga 920, currently on sale for £999, only has 8GB of memory and is not expandable.
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Microsoft’s Surface Pro 6 only allows for 16GB of storage if you buy a 512GB SSD and a Core i7, which costs £1,723.99 including the Type Cover keyboard. That would be stupid.
You can check for latency issues on your PC by running Resplendence’s latency monitor for at least 15 minutes. This can help you identify what’s causing problems, although running SiSoftware’s Sandra Lite will provide more useful advice for optimizing your system.
However, the fact is that Windows is a general-purpose program, not a real-time operating system. Let it run long enough and eventually it will find something that, by a few milliseconds, is more important than delivering your audio bits. You can reduce the chances by not running other software, stopping non-essential background tasks, disconnecting from networks, and so on, but you can’t completely eliminate the risk. Apple’s redesigned 14-inch and 16-inch MacBook Pros with the new M1 Pro and M1 Max are Apple’s most powerful laptops.
Apple first announced the switch from Intel to its own silicon Macs at WWDC 2020. Its first three products with the M1 chip were the Mac mini, MacBook Air, and MacBook Pro, before also coming to the iMac and iPad Pro. These five products have been praised for their strength and effectiveness. Since the launch of the M1, professionals have been eagerly awaiting something more sophisticated. At the last Apple event, we finally saw the launch of the new MacBook Pro with the M1 Pro and M1 Max along with the new AirPods, HomePod mini cores and the Apple Music Voice Plan.
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With up to 10-core CPU and 32-core GPU, MacBooks M1 Pro and M1 Max are perfect for editing large spatial audio projects with hundreds of high-quality tracks and effects. Following the event, Apple updated its professional music creation software, Logic Pro, with surround audio capabilities, free producer packs, and extra horsepower to take advantage of all that extra horsepower. Apple says the 10-core CPU in both chips enables up to 3x more Amp Designer plug-ins in Logic Pro compared to the previous generation’s high-end 13-inch model.
In addition to performance, Apple has redesigned the entire laptop with improved display, battery life, camera, audio system and connectivity.
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