Looking for a touring laptop or a studio machine? We’ve perused the Apple litany through the prism of music production to create a roundup of the best Mac and MacBooks for the job.
While performance-based music producers like the portability of MacBook 16-inch, most music producers prefer to be chained to the desktop and will enjoy the iMac 5k Retina (2020). The M1 Chip is a no-brainer for those who exclusively work with Logic or Garageband, however, others need to wait for third-party compatibility to roll out.
Macs are the dream music-making machine, but what fuels their enduring popularity among music producers? For me, they carry a stamp of exemplary performance, ease of use, and elegant design. Considering that you are here, you undoubtedly share some of that fanfare.
Your problem, on the other hand, is what variant or make/model of Mac or MacBook to settle on. Well, you have come to the right tech-enthusiast, music producer, and Mac user. Also, a part-time forum junky who vociferously debated Apple detractors.
We’ll focus on the nub – the computing capabilities – of the make/model. We’ll sidestep the peripherals because there is a whole world of aftermarket options for that. We’ll stick to pure n’ mighty horsepower to steer through the dense multi-track project without any hiccups.
Apple updated the whole lineup in 2020 with revisions to price and specs. The most notable of these was the Apple M1 chip. The iMac hasn’t seen any substantial changes but the MacBook Pro is now rocking the M1 chip technology and returns to a scissor-style keyboard.
Firstly, music producers are lodged at the intersection of music production and computing technology. Tech-specs always wear out quicker than you think and when you least expect it. Always pick a model that has more juice than what you need to handle your current projects.
Your requirements can expand rapidly, and you don’t want to go through this rigmarole all over again. In other words, ‘future-proof’.
Second, I would love to put a price on each product to make it easier for you to pin something to your budget. However, prices fluctuate and vary even further among countries/continents. Instead, I’ve placed handy links to the best online deals currently available for the product. Hopefully, you’ll be in time to grab a good deal.
So, with all that ironed out – it’s Apple – let’s bite into it:
Best Music Production Macs for Audio (2021)
#1 Mac Mini M1 – Best Beginner and Budget Option
Mac Mini M1 – Who is it for?
- Beginners / Hobbyists
- Anyone getting started with Apple-only DAWS.
- Music producers who use Logic X Pro
- Anyone on a limited budget
I have a soft corner for the Mac Mini. I started my Apple journey with it. I loved the fact that it’s tiny, silent, and offers great connectivity options. Even the entry-level option was well-spec’d for music production when it was launched.
Mac Mini M1:
Today, we are at the supercharged altar of the Mac Mini with an Apple M1 chip.
The M1 chip features a 16-core Neural Engine and 8-core CPU – 4 performance and 4 efficiency cores. The Mac Mini also includes a built-in speaker, 2 Thunderbolt /USB 4 ports, 3.5mm headphone jack, and HDMI 2.0 port. Plus, the Mac Mini can support 2 displays simultaneously.
There’s no doubt that the 2020 Mac Mini M1 outperforms the old or new Mini Mi3. You are probably thinking now is the best time to upgrade.
15x faster machine learning, 6x faster graphics, and 3x faster CPU performance? I guess we’ll be enjoying our gaming sessions between tracking sessions, won’t we? *Tapestop*
M1 is nascent. It’s Apple’s first and only chip ever. Plus, it hasn’t even got out of its birthday suit yet. I don’t mean to blow out the M1 candle, but Apple is currently only offering it in base models – the most affordable computers.
Alas, that doesn’t imply that it’s cheap. It’s just the least expensive entry into the work of Macs. However, you must account for the additional costs of a mouse/keyboard and display. You won’t be making music without those unless you plan to use it as a djembe.
For that reason, it’s the best option for beginners or anyone out for their first music production machine. Again, because of the relatively affordable pricing, the Mini MI is the best place to start for the budget-conscious.
Perfect for Logic Pro Users
However, based simply on Logic Pro X CPU benchmarks, you are in for an absolute treat. The M1 processing is better than Intel processors in every aspect.
It will manifest as significantly faster CPU efficiency. That, in turn, will embolden Logic Pro users to expand the plugin usage. However, if you’ve built a VST collection and use multiple DAWs, you should wait for more updates.
Third-party support infrastructure.
Mac Mini M1 2020 doesn’t support all platforms yet. A lot of bugs have been ironed out in the past few months and software developers are catching up, but we’re not fully there yet.
I’m not saying that the software doesn’t work at all, but there will be a drop in performance, and DAWs such as Studio One or Pro Tools will draw more resources.
Plus, you will be using the macOS Big Sur as that’s mandated to run Apple M1 chips. That means you are rolling the dice with compatibility and have to abandon all 32-bit applications.
Additionally, it’s not available with premium specs, so it cannot be a viable option for anyone who is a seasoned music producer with wide-ranging projects that use multiple platforms.
It works great with Logic and Final Cut, but the plug-in support is not there for non-native DAWs. It may arrive soon, but professional music producers who function outside the Logic Pro X framework should stay away.
As for specs, I recommend 16 to 32 GB RAM with a minimum of 512GB SSD. The storage is configurable to 1TB or 2TB. You can add more storage via external hard disks but the RAM cannot be upgraded further after the point of purchase.
I don’t recommend 8GB RAM unless you are a hobbyist. We’ve already discussed why it’s smart to future proof. You will eventually outgrow it if you want to make a career in music production.
Check out these Mac mini deals for a discount.
#2 iMac 27-inch Retina 5k (2020) – Top Pick for Home Studios
iMac 27-inch Retina 5k – Who is it for?
- Recording artists, mixing engineers
- Bedroom music producers
- Studios Pros
- Anyone with the wallet for it
Some consider the iMac as a Mac Mini with a built-in screen. However, it’s a gorgeous 27” screen – one you’ve seen over and over in the YouTube music production tutorials you binge on.
It’s the ultimate dream – to own a spec’d out 27″ 5k iMac and a custom-built work desk, with those Ikea kitchen countertop hacks. However, practically speaking, any iMac model other than the base 21.5-inch is good enough for the job. That is if you can settle for Retina 4k displays.
The iMac’s minimalist aluminum enclosure, sleek chassis, stylish wireless peripherals, and stunning Retina display are to die for. Now, since August 2020, it boasts of SSDs as a standard feature across the board, which was a long overdue update, to be honest.
The iMac is, was, and seemingly will remain the dominant AIO (all-in-one computer) in the 27-inch segment. After all, who is even competing with it?
iMac 27-inch Retina 5k Highlights:
The 2020 update announced the inclusion of a 10-core Intel i9 processor, Radeon Pro575X graphics card, and vastly better camera – for all those Instagram videos about music production, perhaps.
The price range now starts with a brow-raising $2000 and extends to $4000+ with the legacy ins and outs. I’m happy to recommend the entry-level model out of the three possible variations. However, you can load it up as much as you want, nano-texture glass, and whatnot.
The base model features a six-core 10th-generation Intel Core i5 (the 2nd option is essentially the same with more clock speed). If your wallet is happy with it, you can also opt for the 10-core Intel i9 with 3.6 GHz and up to 5.0GHz of Turbo Boost.
All processors support Hyper-threading, which allows individual cores to handle two instruction threads simultaneously. The RAM/memory is configurable to 128GB and storage is capped at 256GB SSD. However, you always have the option of buying an external hard drive.
Other features of the base model include Radeon Pro 5300 (w/ 4GB GDDR6 memory), four USB-A ports, two Thunderbolt 4/USB-C ports, and a configurable Ethernet connector.
iMac Recommended Specs for Music Production 2021:
- Beginners: Core i5 Processor, 512 GB storage, 8-16 GB RAM.
- Intermediate: Core i7 Processor, 1 TB storage, 32 GB RAM.
- Advanced: Core i10 Processor, 8 TB storage, 64 GB RAM
The size of the screen and type of screen also add to the costs. The 27-inch Retina is undoubtedly worth the extra price, but the nano-texture glass is best left to user discretion.
The truth is that the iMac is all alone in the 27-inch space. There is nothing that can rival its modern-classic looks, computing, or performance. So, if your heart is set on it, take the leap of faith and don’t blink when they bill you for it.
Check out these iMac Pro deals for a discount.
#3 Apple MacBook Pro 13″ – Top Pick for Performers
MacBook Pro 13-inch – Who is it for?
- Music Production on the Go
- Capturing ideas while traveling
- DJs and performance-based music producers
- Anyone who needs a compact and portable option
- M1 Chip is only recommended for those within the Logic X framework
The tangible specs of the MacBook Pro can vary wildly because of the different configurations. So far, the MacBook Pro 13” was not considered to be ideal for music production because of the screen/keyboard size and storage limitations.
However, the 2020 update gave up the 13-inch with 2x standard storage and Magic Keyboard. You can now push the build-order to 4TB of storage, 32GB of RAM, and a 10th-gen Intel Core i5 (4.1 GHz).
This puts the 13-inch MacBook Pro back to the table for music production. It has some advantages over the 16-inch version too. Firstly, it is significantly cheaper. Second, it’s lighter, smaller, and more live performance friendly.
Again, Apple is at the pinnacle in price as well, and the MacBook Pro will put a hole in your pocket. More so if you go the full nine yards – i9 processor, 8TB internal SSD, 64 GB RAM, and everything else in plush leather.
However, in return, you receive a solidly build computing powerhouse that is equipped with a lightning-fast CPU and RAM that is expandable up to 64 GB.
MacBook Pro 13-Inch Recommended Specs:
- Beginners: Apple M1 Processor, 512 GB storage, 8-16 GB RAM.
- Intermediate: Intel Core i7 Processor, 1 TB storage, 16-32 GB RAM.
- Advanced: Intel Core i10 Processor, 8 TB storage, 32-64GB RAM
It may not be the mother ship you’ve been looking for, but you can always hook it up to an additional screen at home (or in your workspace). The update has turned it into a worthy laptop for music-making among music producers/performers who work with a macOS.
I recommend the Apple MacBook Pro 13-inch only if you are a touring artist or music producer + performer. It can also be an excellent choice for producers who shuttle between studios.
For the same reasons as above, I don’t recommend the M1 chip for anyone who uses DAWs other than Logic Pro X and Garageband. You need to wait till third-party compatibility arrives.
Check out MacBook Pro 13-inch (2020) deals here.
#4 Apple MacBook Pro 16” M1 – Top Pick for Jet-Setters
Apple MacBook Pro 16” M1 – Who is it for?
- Music Producers who travel between studios
- DJs and performance-based artists
- Anyone who needs a compact and portable option
- M1 Chip is only recommended for those within the Logic X framework
Let’s face it, Apple MacBook Pro is the only real portable option for Logic Pro X. You can argue on behalf of MacBook Air, but its USP is “the thinnest, lightest notebook” – hardly something you’ll ever see on a music producer’s checklist.
While the 13” Apple MacBook Pro is ideal for touring musicians or performers, the new Apple MacBook Pro 16” is an equally commendable option for stationary music producers and those who travel and perform.
There is not a whole lot to mull over in terms of the specs. I’ve already covered the bulk of it in the 13-inch segment. I’ll just redress the answer to the million-dollar question. Should you ditch your current laptop and pledge allegiance to the Apple MacBook Pro 16-inch MI?
The answer to that depends on two things –
- If Logic Pro X is at the heart of your workflow, the M1 is an absolute no-brainer. You’ll be layering tracks and effects in a digital heartbeat. However, the extra optimization may not be as evident if you use Pro Tools, Abelton, or other non-Apple hardware and software packages.
- The jury isn’t out on when and how the third-party optimization will roll out. Over time, Apple is expected to launch full support and become the ultimate machine. Although, there is some unverified buzz about the release of the M1X chip in 2021, so you might want to hold out.
MacBook Pro 16” Recommended Specs for Music Production 2021:
- Beginners: Apple M 1 Processor, 512 GB storage, 8-16 GB RAM.
- Intermediate: Core i7 Processor, 1 TB storage, 16 GB RAM.
- Advanced: Core i10 Processor, 4 TB storage, 32GB RAM
#5 iMac Pro – The Ultimate Overkill
iMac Pro: Who is it for?
- Recording Artists who need high-output computing
- Large Projects, TV and Film Scores
- Professional Music Production Studios
- Anyone with deep enough pockets
Take all your graphics and processor requirements and throw them in a single all-in-one design. Then top it with all the storage, memory, and I/O option you can dream of. Chances are, you’ll still be a touch short of what the iMac Pro offers in an all-in-one package.
The iMac Pro is a beast caged in a familiar iMac enclosure, but only with power and processing that is more competent than ever. On the outside, you may not notice a lot happening. It also sports the same Retina 5k display as the regular iMac.
There is no serious difference in connectivity either with an overlap of options such as the card slot, four USB-A ports, and headphone jack. However, the iMac Pro offers a 10-gigabit Ethernet port – something that professional music producers with post-production needs will appreciate. It also features Bluetooth 5.0 tech and 802.11ac wireless networking.
We’ve picked the base model as a recommendation. That’s more than sufficient to show all the real improvements inside the housing.
Best iMac Pro for Music Production: Base Model
It features fantastic base specs that include a 10-core Intel Xeon W CPU (3.5 GHz) with up to 4.5 GHz of Turbo Boost, AMD Radeon Pro Vega 56 graphics (w/ 8GB of HBM2 memory), 32GB of DDR4 RAM (4 x 8GB DIMMs), and support for two 5k or two Pro Display XDRs.
It’s built to handle the creative needs of users who seek processing punch. It ticks all the boxes for music production, but you ought to stop and ponder if you need the astronomical power because you need to justify the equally astronomical cost.
You can, of course, configure the base model by a long way. The top models would sport a CPU with an 18-core 2.3 GHz Intel Xeon W processor (4.3Ghz Turbo Boost), Radeon Vega 64X graphics (w/ 16GB HBM2 memory), 256GB RAM of memory, and 4TB SSD storage.
It’s easy to confuse the iMac Pro as an ‘advanced iMac’ because of the similar form factor. In real-world applications, the specs and performance are wildly different, with the iMac Pro being so far ahead that it feels like a preposterous assumption.
Apple (and their engineers) rarely get any attention for their real achievement – the thermal architecture. An iMac Pro is unbelievably quiet for the performance. You’ll only witness this triumph in a well-treated room with quiet equipment.
As ever, there are build-to-order options to expand the base specs to suit your needs. The top-of-the-line model, for example, would feature a 2.3GHz 18core Xeon W processor, 128GB RAM, 4TB of SSD storage, and a Radeon Pro Vega 64 GPU with 16GB HBM2 memory.
Most critics believe that the iMac is a paltry stop-gap while the iMac Pro is the ultimate end game. And, then there are others who call it an overpriced and/or over-engineered workstation.
There’s no debate on whether this monster can bear out your studio needs. Instead, the big question is can you bear out the price tag. It is, hands down, the most advanced all-in-one option for music production. The reassuring bit is that you get what you pay for.
Check out iMac Pro (2020) deals here.
Mac Music Production Buying Guide 2021
I’ve directly answered the question ‘What is the Best Mac for Music production’. It’s imperative to understand what is important in a music-making machine. Macs offer a lot of features but not all of them are relevant to music production.
Here’s a quick checklist of what to prioritize when configuring a Mac for recording/producing music:
Import Hardware Specs for Music Production: Checklist
- CPU/Processing Power
- RAM / Memory
- Screen Size
Barring the new M1 Chip, Mac processors range from i5 to i9. The Intel Core i5 is the most common – available in two options – quad-core and 6-core. Processors will influence how reliable your computing experience is.
The fastest processors come with a huge jump in price. You don’t need the big cheese unless you work on large projects with multiple VST instruments, sample libraries, and 100+ tracks/effects.
Storage is split between SDD and HDD, but Apple usually offers SSD only in the configurable options. HDDs are cheap but take longer to recall data. SSDs are quiet, shock resistant, and have low latency. They are categorically better than HDDs.
Macs have storage ranging from 256GB to 8TB (SSD). Most models offer 512 GB of storage. This is the bare minimum for music production, although you need way more if you work with large sample libraries. You always have the option of external hard disks, SSD, or otherwise.
Mac Mini is the only option without a monitor. This allows you to select an Apple or aftermarket processor. iMac offers 21.5-inch and 27-inch options whereas MacBook offers 13-inch and 16-inch models. I recommend the largest screen you can afford, especially if you work long hours.
Future-Proofing: Buy Once, Cry Once
I wouldn’t rave about future-proofing were we talking about PC. However, Apple is a horse of a different color, and the horse is often accused of being greedy.
Longevity is never an issue with Apple products. They are made with top-shelf components, usually the best on the market. The hardware lifespan is 5 to 10 years for most components. But the CPU and RAM decide how well the machine will run the latest software.
Case in point, Apple solders the RAM and SSDs to MacBook Pro motherboards in most models (2020 included), so customers have no option to upgrade the memory later. Long story short, you are stuck with what you buy.
Luckily, some models allow for specific upgrades but they too are not user-replaceable. You’ll have to visit an authorized Apple store to get it done. Or, you could stumble your way through internet tutorials that give a whole new meaning to ‘memory cage’.
In Apple’s defense, any laptop of MacBook will remain relevant for the next 4-5 years. Either way, it’s imperative that you ‘future-proof’ to ensure that your money is well spent.
iMac vs MacBook Pro for Music Production
The laptop vs. desktop debate is not worth dwelling on. Each format has its pros and cons, and both are equally qualified to see you through your projects. You need to understand their use cases and pinpoint which format is the right option for you.
A laptop is portable. That allows you to use it for live performances or when you travel. You can even use it while you lounge at the local coffee shop. However, it’s diminutive compared to 27-inch iMac. Some people find the 13 or 16-inch screens crummy and excruciating to work with.
If you only intend to sit in a studio while you produce/record music, the iMac is a no-brainer. Most professional musicians (who don’t travel) prefer desktops because they are cheaper and generally include more storage.
Either way, this is a crucial decision. Given the price you’ll be paying, you need to nail it because it won’t be easy to walk back on it later. Take your time to figure out what your long-term needs are and pick up the more practical format.
Related Questions: Mac and Music Production FAQ
Why do music producers use Mac?
Mac, and Apple products in general, have a creative appeal. One reason is that OSX is more conducive to audio recording/editing. Plus, stability, core audio support, and low-latency performance also contribute to Apple’s popularity. Macs are way less prone to crashes and bugs. Lastly, Macs are sleek, tidy, and well spec’d – traits that sit well with creative people.
Is a MacBook Air good for music production?
Generally, MacBook Air isn’t considered ideal for music production unless live performances are an important consideration. The real advantages of a MacBook Air are that it is lightweight with a slim/thin profile. Music producers pay for this aspect of the design but it doesn’t yield equitable returns on the money. The MacBook Pro 16″ offers more features, a bigger screen, and way more bang for your music-making buck.
Is MacBook Pro good enough for professional music production?
All variants of the MacBook Pro can handle the needs of serious music producers. The 13″ MacBook Pro is perfect for performance-oriented or frequent-flying music producers. The 16”, especially the one with the M1 chip, is configurable to a wide range of specs. It’s the ultimate marriage of portability and Apple’s flagship resources for music production.
What Mac specs do I need for music production?
The following Mac specs are a baseline for music production:
- Quad-Core or Core i7 processor (2.2GHz minimum)
- 15-inch Screen (the bigger the better)
- 8-16GB RAM (preferably 16GB)
- 512GB to 1TB Storage (preferably SSD)
Additionally, you should have a side-scroll mouse, the ability to use two screens simultaneously, and external storage ranging from 500GB to 2TB.
Which iMac is the best for music production?
Any of the 27-inch iMac with Retina 5k are top-notch options for music production. The performance and price will vary based on how you choose to customize it. All options are capable of serious performance/output, but the emphasis should be on the processor, RAM, and storage. The other specs are relatively expendable, best left to the discretion of the user.
It’s a great time to pursue music production. Apple is flexing its muscles as every big-name brand is gearing up to undercut their market share. We, in turn, get incredible choices at incredulous prices, and hopefully, this cycle will continue.
My hope, through this post, was not just to acquaint you with the most capable Macs out there, but also to talk you through the ideal use cases and the no-go zones for each. If my wit has favored us, I hope to have entertained you with some trivia in the meanwhile.