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Selecting the best MacBook for your music production ultimately depends on how you work and what type of work you will be doing. You also want to prolong the useful life of your Mac as long as possible. It is important then to carefully configure your laptop purchase so it is future-proofed.
The Macbook Pro is your best bet overall, but if you’re on a budget and you’re choosing the MacBook Air, keep in mind you’ll be missing out on the magic touch bar.
Music professionals love to take advantage of the Macbook Pro 13 & 16 inch models because they can edit more intuitively with extra buttons instead of memorizing keyboard hotkeys (on Logic Pro X).
In this post, I cover the comparison between the macbook pros, how we tested them, and which have the best music production capabilities. I’ll also cover all the alternative mac options available for music creation.
Top Picks – At a glance
- MacBook Pro 16-inch: Best Mac for Music Production
- MacBook Air 13: Best budget Mac for recording music
- MacBook Pro 13 inch: Most well rounded
Best MacBook for Music Production
Below are the best Mac devices that are ideal for creating and producing music of all types. We’ve tested these side by side and will compare their pros, cons, and what was unique about each laptop for music production.
MacBook Pro 16-inch: Best Mac for Music Production
Hands down, the 16-inch MacBook Pro is the best Macbook for recording music; especially for those looking to create the most complex music projects.
The 13-inch works as well, the difference is a slight dip in performance and of course a 3 inch smaller screen.
I prefer to see my projects on the larger 16-inch screen instead of squinting; especially if I’m playing a guitar or using any other instrument while looking at the display and recording.
Processor: A 2.6Ghz 6-core i7 processor and 16GB RAM processing beast. Upgradable to 8-core 9th gen intel. Your DAW plus plugins can run with hardly any latency. This allows music production software on Mac work with minimal issues.
Top audio quality compared to other Macbooks: You may not always be connected to the audio interface but the 16-inch MacBook Pro’s high-fidelity 6 speakers with force-cancelling woofers won’t disappoint as it brings sound that is almost as good as the original. The speakers minimize vibrations even when you turn the volume way up. Trebles are extra sharp; bass is strong and crisp.
Touch Bar: The Touch Bar’s 6 operation modes work seamlessly with DAWs like Logic Pro X. It is also very convenient to quickly move through music tracks.
See our post: Is the MacBook Air Good for Programming? (The Truth)
Screen size/retina display: On the road, the 16-inch MacBook Pro will give you enough screen estate to do productive work without an external monitor.
Ports: Four (4) Thunderbolt/USB-C ports are far superior to Firewire. Firewire’s maximum throughput is around 3.2Gbps; Thunderbolt’s can go up to 10Gbps. If you want an audio interface with no perceptible latency, Thunderbolt is it.
If the price point of the 13-inch Macbook Pro is more appealing than the 16 inch (for the value), but you want a larger screen, then you can always add an external monitor later on.
Is a MacBook Pro required for bigger projects?
Music production is a resource hog. You cannot afford hiccups in your laptop’s performance. The only laptop I would be comfortable recommending to you for large and complex projects is the MacBook Pro.
This is the one that will give you peace of mind, readily handles even your complex and large projects with multiple tracks and channels, and lasts for years. The MacBook Pro was designed for complex music and video editing.
This is not to say that the MacBook air doesn’t work well, but if you’re making music the Macbook Pro has the better speaker system and will handle everything a slight bit quicker than the Macbook Air and other laptops of this caliber.
See our post: How Often Should I Shut Down my MacBook?
MacBook Air 13: Best budget Mac for recording music
Are you a solo artist who composes his own songs? Or a music producer working on basic music projects
The MacBook Air will be a good start for you. It won’t have the same power and speed as the MacBook Pro but the robustness of macOS and the overall efficiency of a Mac’s file management system still assures smooth performance for simple projects.
Processor: 8-core CPU Apple M1 chip works extremely well with the apple system. Many music professionals agree that this chip is what helps you run your music production software faster than the previous MacBook Air 13 models that used intel.
Battery life: 11 to 12 hours of battery life on normal usage will give you enough juice on the road while doing work before needing to plug in again.
Adequate audio: The Air’s 3-mike array does not compare to the six speakers of the Pro but since you will likely be using an audio interface most of the time, it is not a deal breaker.
Portability: The Air’s very light weight is one of its biggest plus points for music production on the road.
Price: The Air gives you enough power, coupled with reliability and performance that Macs are known for, at an affordable investment.
Amateur and professional music producers will find that the Air actually works great for their projects. Just get the maximum RAM and storage that you can afford so that it lasts you for 5 or more years.
Is a MacBook Air good enough for music production
The MacBook Air can definitely handle small basic projects and probably some moderately large ones, with all non-essential applications closed, but it will definitely be a struggle for large projects.
While it may not have the same power and speed as the MacBook Pro, it can still provide decent, smooth and reliable performance for basic music projects.
Note though that it comes with only two Thunderbolt/USB-C ports so be prepared to throw in a USB hub to increase your ports as well as an adapter for USB-A peripherals.
MacBook Pro 13 inch: Best Macbook for Music
The 13-inch MacBook Pro is the middle ground choice. It has almost the power of the 16-inch MacBook Pro but is less expensive.
Music producers who are not quite ready yet for the “big guns” 16-inch MacBook Pro but want more power than the MacBook Air will find the 13-inch MacBook Pro just right.
The 13-inch MacBook Pro comes with a quad-core i5 processor and 8GB or 16GB RAM versions, upgradeable to double the RAM. 16GB RAM should be your floor limit because music production resources are memory-hungry.
For music storage capacity, getting as much as you can afford is ideal, unless you plan to offload some of your work to external drives or the cloud. Audio quality is good enough with a 3-mic array but cannot beat the MacBook Pro’s six speakers.
MacBook Requirements for Music Production
MacBook requirements for music production can be very demanding. Basic projects like a 30-second commercial jingle could be done on almost any Mac but once you start working on more complex projects, like the musical score of a full-length movie or the repertoire of a concert, the demand on resources jumps significantly.
Digital audio workstations (DAWs) that are considered industry standard, like Logic Pro X or Pro Tools are some of the more popular ones with music producers. Of course, GarageBand already comes bundled with Macs but its features are best for beginners and do not meet everything that more serious music producers want out of a DAW.
There are more DAWs running Windows so you may be wondering why we are focused on macOS in this post. As you will see later, a big advantage of macOS is its robust OS and outstanding file management, which make working on complex music projects that much more seamless.
Let’s dive more deeply into some important considerations for music producers and check out the MacBook models that we believe will be best for music production.
RAM is critical in music production. Serious music producers store libraries of different instruments in their computer: drum libraries, string libraries, piano libraries, and more. These are sounds of actual instruments. Memory-wise, they take up more space compared to notes created from electronic synthesizers. Every note of an instrument, say a piano, is recorded at multiple dynamics (e.g., from pianissimo to fortissimo). Loading one piano library can easily use up 4GB of RAM.
Think of the demand on memory resources if you need to upload several such libraries while also opening your music project. Some music producers have resorted to offloading the libraries to an external drive. But for access to be smooth and fast, the drive should be connected via USB 3 or Thunderbolt ports. Even the RPM or revolutions per minute of the external drive would matter (one music producer said that he uses an external drive with 7200rpm to ensure smooth and fast access).
Some DAW developers list 4GB RAM on their websites as minimum requirement for RAM but take note that this assumes you are running nothing else but their software. Many music producers on different fora say, and we agree, that the floor limit should be 16GB RAM and if your budget allows it, go higher. If possible, max out the Mac’s RAM upgrade. Newer MacBooks now have parts that are soldered in place. This means that upgrading after your purchase is close to impossible.
At the onset, I would say the ideal minimum you should have is 500GB SSD but more will always be better. If you plan to be mobile frequently, max out your Mac’s storage upgrade because carrying around external drives can be such a pain. Howeever, if you work more often from home or from an office, then external drives are a good way to offload storage capacity.
Here’s a rundown of space you will need to allot on your laptop as a bare minimum:
macOS – The latest OS will take up approximately 4.8GB of storage. Expect this size to increase with every new OS introduced.
DAW – A DAW like Logic Pro X will take up around 6GB for the basic version but if you get the full studio library, it could balloon to around 63GB
Sample libraries – Storage will depend on how many sample libraries you want. If you are frequently mobile, you would want to have everything at the tip of your fingers so get the most storage you can afford.
Plugins – Aside from sound libraries, you need pieces of code to do other stuff with your projects like audio signal processing, analysis, or sound synthesis.
Your music projects – You may easily underestimate how fast music projects use up space. As you keep on getting gigs, these projects’ sizes will quickly add up and occupy a sizeable portion of your storage capacity.
Ideally, a laptop dedicated to music production projects alone and without internet connection, ensures that everything is clean, fast, and not vulnerable to virus infections or crashes from other applications. However, this is not always practical, cost-wise. Provide enough storage space for all your other applications and files. If you are a gamer, well, that definitely ups your storage requirement significantly!
MacBook Pro vs MacBook Air vs Windows for music production
Without a doubt, there will always be a PC vs Mac discussion and admittedly, some will prefer one OS over another. Your choice of platform will determine your choice of laptop and DAW. My personal recommendation is macOS for several reasons.
A Mac just works. Period. A Mac’s intuitive user interface (UI) is simply the best. From a production perspective, it is much easier to find plugins, loops and samples on a Mac than on Windows. If you also want a smooth, seamless workflow across different apps when working on your projects, the choice is macOS, hands down.
Mac vs Windows: Which is better for recording music?
Which should you buy: a Mac or Windows for music recording? Unexpected errors, crashes and fragmented files can slow down performance.
Most users know that a Mac is very reliable in this area compared to windows. Think of the hours of music production time you could save without these minor errors appearing as you record music.
Looking to replace your Macbook with an iPad will want to see iPad vs Laptop Pros and Cons: Replacing a Laptop with iPad
Why is the MacBook Air good for music production? The Macs’ retina display and screen size (up to 16 inches) just makes long hours of screen exposure much easier on the eyes.
As for audio quality, the 16-inch MacBook Pro that comes with 6 speakers and woofers leaves others behind as it brings exquisite stereo sound even without using an audio interface.
The MacBook Air, while not as powerful as the Pro’s, has the same robustness, reliability, ease of use, and screen quality as its older brother.
Music Apps & Software
There are several software for music production that are considered top-tier, industry standard and run on the Mac: Logic Pro X, Pro Tools, Ableton Live, and Cubase, to name a few.
Logic Pro X has a lot going for it among the DAWs that run on the Mac. It’s friendly even to newbies and extremely versatile. One can easily record, mix, and master with it. It has a massive collection of sounds and plugins. And for writing music, Logic Pro X is the clear choice of many.
Logic Pro X runs only on macOS unlike the other DAWs mentioned here that are cross-platform. Some Mac music producers have said that a DAW designed exclusively for macOS, in contrast to cross-platform DAWs, often performs much better.
Alternatives to using a Macbook for creating & editing music
When layering many different tracks for music in an editing software you’ll want a macbook that is both capable and portable. However, some musical artists don’t want a portable computer and are happy with a cheaper option that is more powerful: the iMac.
See our post: How Often Should I Shut Down my MacBook?
The iMac is capable of all the same features as the Macbook, but costs less compared to the specs of the Macbook and monitor combination when you include the larger monitor of a 24” and 27” iMac.
Overall, the Macbook Pro 13 inch, and 16 inch work well for music production and ran logic Pro X, garage band, Presonus Studio, Ableton live, Audacity and more without any issues when we tested these side by side.
The best macbook for music production is the Macbook Air 16 inch. This should come to no surprise since it has the best audio system, most upgradable tech specs, and a larger display to view your music editing software.
Compared to windows and other laptops, the macbook provides reliability that many musicians find unparalleled.
When I tested these different modes (Windows Mac Air, Mac Pro 13 & 16), I found the Macbook Pro 16-inch to be the most reliable for recording music with the least amount of errors and most intuitive design when editing. These benefits are due to its display and better top of the line tech specs.
If you’re on a budget, then the best budget macbook for music is the Air or the macbook pro 13-inch since it will perform many of the same tasks, without too much of a dip in performance. You’ll still be able to record guitar, piano, vocals and much more on all these macbook choices.