Mac vs PC: Which is best for music production?

For every music producer, whether you are a seasoned professional working in an expensive studio, or just starting out in a simple bedroom setup, your music production computer is arguably one of the most important and expensive pieces of studio equipment you will ever buy.


In essence your computer is the workhorse of your studio, running your production software, storing your precious tracks and sample collections, as well as communicating with all your other music production hardware. Therefore, when deciding between buying a Mac or PC for music production it's important to get this decision right.


Apple Mac and Windows Icons


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Is Mac or PC best for music production?


Historically Macs were seen as the best choice for music producers due to their ease of use when working with audio. In recent years however Windows PCs have caught up and the choice is no longer so straightforward. Your specific needs and budget will dictate which option is best for you.


In this article I'll be looking at what to consider when deciding between buying a Mac or PC, the best computer specs for music production, as well as my own personal pick of the best music production laptops and desktops for both PC and Mac.


Mac vs PC: Cost, Reliability, and Upgradeability


There is no denying the fact that Apple computers are expensive when compared to similarly specced PCs and are increasingly designed so their internal components cannot be easily upgraded. By comparison, Windows PCs are cheaper and much easier to upgrade or even build from scratch to meet your exact requirements.


Where Macs excel however is in their reliability and ease of use. Because Apple control the design of both hardware and software within their computers, this allows for much tighter integration between internal components and the Mac operating system, resulting in less hardware failures, software issues, and generally a smoother user experience.


Mac vs PC: Specs for Music Production


The three main factors that determine the performance of your computer are the Central Processing Unit (CPU), Graphics Processing Unit (GPU), and the amount of available Random-Access Memory (RAM).


In terms of music production, the most important spec to consider here is the CPU. Running a DAW with many instances of instrument and effect plug-ins will put a heavy load on your CPU as you are generating and processing sounds in real-time.


You also can't easily upgrade, so the best CPU for music production will be one that is as up to date as possible with a high clock speed and multiple cores for applications that support multi-threading.


Is AMD or Intel better for music production?


A few years ago, Intel were seen as the preferred choice for music production CPUs due to AMD's perceived compatibility issues with music production software. This is no longer the case, and at the time of writing this article, the AMD Ryzen 5 series provides the best performance versus value for money.


Having enough RAM is also important, however the difference here is that it is generally easier to upgrade later. As a minimum you should be looking at 8GB RAM for music production, with 16GB being more than enough.


The GPU is not that important for music production and so in most cases a separate GPU card is not required. Note however that some top-end cards can contribute towards the overall processing power of your computer which would ease the load on your CPU.


Is the Apple M1 chip good for music production?


Most recent Macs use the new Apple M1 silicon which integrates an 8-core CPU, GPU, and a 16-core neural engine. Although there are many merits to this chip which make it suitable for music production, this new design leaves no room for subsequent memory expansion, so you need to be happy with the amount of memory on purchase.


Mac vs PC: DAW Compatibility


The good news here is that nowadays pretty much all major Digital Audio Workstations (DAWs) are compatible with both Windows and Mac OS. Exceptions to this include Logic and GarageBand which are Mac only, and Cakewalk which is Windows only.


If you're new to music production then GarageBand, which is included with every Mac for free, is a great way to get started in music production. It's a high-quality product, and comes bundled with some great instruments, drum kits and loops straight out of the box. Alternatively for Windows PCs, Cakewalk is a capable free DAW, albeit looking a bit long in the tooth nowadays.


If you're looking for other options for free DAWs, then I've written an article comparing the best options. You can read it here.


Mac vs PC: Plug-in Compatibility


Plug-ins are software versions of real physical instruments and effects such as Synths, Compressors, or Reverbs that run inside your DAW.


They come in several different formats including Virtual Studio Technology (VST), Audio Unit (AU), and Avid Audio Extension (AAX) to name but a few.


Not every plug-in format plays nicely with both Mac and Windows. For example, the AU format is the proprietary format that works exclusively for Mac. In the past, the VST format worked only with PCs, however nowadays they are compatible with Mac as well.


This being said, the vast majority of modern companies that make 3rd party plug-ins will ensure that their products are compatible with both PC and Mac, so this only becomes an issue if you are using legacy plug-ins.


If you are interested in expanding your collection of plug-ins, I've compiled a list of what I believe are the best free VST plug-ins available. You can read that article here.


Mac vs PC: Other Considerations


If you are looking to use hardware with your computer, then it's worth double-checking that you won't have any connection issues. Most MIDI controllers and Audio Interfaces now use USB-C or Thunderbolt connections so you should be ok, however if you are planning on using legacy gear then this may be more of an issue.


If you are planning on recording live instruments or vocals, then the loudness of your production computer may become an issue. In this respect Macs are generally designed to be as quiet as possible, however this may not be the case when buying an off-the-shelf PC or laptop with overly loud cooling fans.


Is a gaming PC good for music production?


A gaming PC can also be used for music production as it will generally have a powerful processor and plenty of RAM. Be careful however that the cooling fans do not generate an excessive amount of noise. You may have to manage the fan speeds if you are recording live instruments or vocals.


Laptop or Desktop for music production?


Whether you choose a laptop or desktop for music production will depend upon the environment that you will be producing in. Laptops are ideal for producers with little studio space or for those who will be producing on the move. Desktops however are most cost effective, enabling you to invest in a more powerful system.


The Best PCs for Music Production


Razor Blade 15 Advanced Gaming Laptop 2021

Razor Blade 15 Advanced Gaming Laptop

Specifications:

CPU: Intel Core i7-11800H 8-Core

GPU: NVIDIA GeForce RTX 3070

RAM: 16 GB DDR

Storage: 1 TB SSD


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ASUS ROG Strix G15 Gaming Laptop

ASUS ROG Strix G15 Gaming Laptop

Specifications:

CPU: AMD Ryzen R7-5800H

GPU: NVIDIA GeForce RTX 3050 Ti

RAM: 16 GB DDR4

Storage: 1TB SSD


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HP Envy 32 All-in-One PC

HP Envy 32 All-in-One PC

Specifications:

CPU: Intel Core i7-9700

GPU: NVIDIA GeForce RTX 2060

RAM: 32 GB DDR4

Storage: 1TB SSD