- Looking to get started in music production and need a new laptop?
- Read this handy guide first to understand what to look for when buying a music production laptop.
Before you dive head first into buying a music production laptop, it’s important to know what to look for. In this article, we’ve broken down the essential factors to look for before you shell out your hard-earned money.
(And hey — maybe with the money you save, you can finally pick up that RODE mic you’ve been eyeing.)
What Are The Minimum Laptop Specs For Music Production?
The minimum recommended laptop specs for music production in 2019 are:
- A minimum of 2.4Ghz quad-core processor power (i5, i7)
- At least 4GB of RAM
- A 64-bit operating system
- A minimum of 500GB of internal storage (HDD or SSD)
- A 13″ screen
Music Production Laptops: The Essentials
What Processors Are Good For Music Production?
The processor is not an area you want to ‘cheap out’ on. You’ll want the best processor possible, as this affects the overall performance abilities and speed of the laptop. A fast processor renders and exports tracks quickly and will keep pace with live performances. Ideally, you’ll want a quad-core (i5 or i7) and a high clock speed that is no lower than 2.4Ghz.
How Much RAM Do I Need For Music Production?
Random-Access Memory, or RAM, determines how many things your laptop can juggle at once. For those looking to get serious about music production, 16GB is fast becoming the new standard in 2019 (some are even opting for 32GB of RAM these days). VSTs, sound libraries, WAV files—all of these consume a lot of RAM, making it a crucial spec to pay attention to for producers.
The bigger the project, the more RAM you’ll need. Most laptops now come with the ability to upgrade your RAM, so even if you opt for 16GB now, you can upgrade to 32GB when you see fit.
You can get away with 8GB of RAM, though 16GB is recommended here.
What’s The Best Operating System For Music Production?
There is no right or wrong answer, here. The best operating system for music production is the one that works best for you.
That means that your preference will most likely be based on what you are most comfortable using.
Someone who has been using PC laptops their entire life may find the switch to Mac daunting, as there is a learning curve and things like shortcuts have to be re-learned.
Many years ago, the argument against Macs used to be that many audio plugins were not supported on that OS. In 2019, this could not be further from the truth.
Music production software companies for the most-part, are releasing versions of their plugins for both Windows and Mac devices, so you should not be worried about compatibility issues.
However! If you are intending to use the DAW ‘Logic Pro’, take note that it is only compatible with Macs.
Linux is a low-key competitor to both of these systems, and we do not advise that newer producers go down this route, due to compatibility issues. Also, if you run into tech issues, it is unlikely that support will be able to help you out much.
How Much HD Storage Do I Need For Music Production?
Virtual instruments are more frequently incorporating high-quality flawless samples, even if they’re synths.
One single virtual instrument can easily be 100GB with round-robin sampling.
DAWs (your music making software) are also becoming larger and larger as more elements get bundled into their suites. Ableton Live 10, for example, is almost 60GB alone.
Is SSD or HDD Better For Music Production?
With virtual instruments and sample libraries taking up so much hard drive space, storage is an important factor to consider.
The SSD is also quieter and due to its faster properties, can reduce recording latency (making it the preferred choice for recording musicians).
HDDs still have their place though. While they are noisier, they benefit from their storage capacity and price point. This means they are perfect for storing massive sample libraries and projects.
It’s not the end of the world if you end up with a laptop that has low hard drive space, though. Many offer you the ability to swap out the hard drives for bigger ones, and you can also always purchase an external HD on the cheap.
What’s The Difference Between 32 Bit And 64 Bit Operating Systems?
64 bit operating systems are the gold standard for most creative software applications in 2019.
32 bit operating systems have become redundant as they are only able to run applications using a maximum of 4GB of RAM, which by today’s standards — is a no go. You could probably get by, but it won’t be a very satisfying experience, especially once you get more than a few soft synths or guitar modelers up and running.
Most laptops made after 2016 are most likely going to come bundled in with a 64-bit operating system by default. Regarding Macbooks, anything past 2008 Macbook Pro will come with a 64-bit operating system.
What Laptop Screen Size Is Optimal For Music Production?
While larger screens are less mobile, many of today’s DAWs and VSTs take up huge visual real estate. If you intend to spend a lot of time tweaking parameters and monitoring tracks, seeing them all at once on a 15” or larger screen is preferential.
For basic recording, beat-making, and scratching out concepts, though, you could probably get away with something smaller like a 13” monitor. And of course, the larger the laptop screen, generally the more space for power.
Personally, I enjoy using 15″ laptops and simply connecting an external monitor via HDMI for my primary screen, and using the laptop for a 2nd screen where I’ll position my VSTs.
If you’re after a true performance beast though, 17″ is probably what you’re going to want to look at.
Do I Need A Portable Laptop For Music Production?
Looking to perform with the laptop as well as use it in the studio? Mobility will be something to consider, then.
If you’re taking your laptop to clubs to perform with, you’ll want a smaller, lighter laptop with a robust battery in case you can’t plug in.
Are you just looking for around-the-studio mobility? If so, you probably won’t mind a heavy beast of a laptop as much, nor will you care about battery life as it will be plugged in most of the time.
What Laptop Ports Do I Need For Music Production?
Since you’ll most likely be using a USB audio interface, you won’t have to worry about various audio jacks or MIDI ports, nor the onboard soundcard. However, be sure there are ample USB ports to support not only the interface but additional peripherals like controllers and physical interfaces. Don’t forget your mouse and other basic peripherals also use a USB port.
Also have a think about whether you need Thunderbolt, as some advanced gear might require it (UAD Apollos for instance). For the most part, though, you’ll get by just fine with USB ports.
Is The Onboard Soundcard Necessary For Music Production?
Short answer — no. Music producers do not need to worry about onboard soundcards because it is assumed that you are going to be purchasing a dedicated audio interface, which will take care of that for you.
There is really no excuse these days for not owning a soundcard. They should be one of the main fixtures of your home studio.
If you’re just getting started, there are budget-entry audio interfaces that you could pick up dirt cheap. If you’re on a tight budget, I recommend the Behringer U-Phoria. or the Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 as two prime candidates to start you on your music production quest.
Find the Best Laptop For Music Production Your Way
While laptops can be expensive, and the best/ laptops for music production often are, it’s important to remember that it’s most probably going to be the most important investment of your career.
Also, remember to zero in on what you specifically do and need to avoid spending money on unnecessary features. If you don’t perform live or travel often, for example, it’s pointless to spend more money on ‘portable’, slim devices that often come at an even higher price (and usually with less power)
Likewise, if you’re going to be doing the majority of your producing on monitor speakers (which I hope you are), don’t be influenced with flashy add-ons such as Bluetooth speakers or cheap headphones that come bundled in. More often than not, they are going to be terrible to use as reference monitors and are often lumped into the package so you spend more. Don’t fall for the shiny object syndrome!
Should You Buy A Refurbished Laptop?
While the temptation of saving a few bucks is hard to resist, in my experience — it’s been mostly a bad idea.
Most assume a refurbished laptop is a great way to save money on an expensive music-making machine, not realizing these laptops aren’t really “like new.” A refurbished laptop are usually returns sent in by unhappy customers that unfortunately received a dud product.
It’s not uncommon to find that refurbished laptops:
- Have a poor battery life: Refurbished models might be the same model, but are usually older-year models. Current-generation models offer improved battery performance thanks to many internal components that have been upgraded since the model was originally released. Also, batteries lose their ability to hold charge over time, meaning a supposed 8-hour battery life may be half that.
- Have wear and tear: Refurbishing a laptop removes defective parts, but parts that are on their way out may not be detected, meaning a critical piece of equipment may fail within months.
- Have no warranty: You’ll usually get a warranty of a year, or three, with a new laptop. Refurbished laptops tend to have a six-month warranty, if anything.
- Are bundled in with no operating system: Depending on who you’re buying from, there may be no operating system, or a non-legal license, opening you to the possibility it could suddenly stop working.
As a serious musician, you want the best laptop for music production you can get. It’s tempting to save money, but that can be done without throwing caution to the wind.
If you really must buy refurbished, definitely ensure that they have a warranty of at least a month so you have some time to properly test out the machine.
If you have any questions on purchasing a laptop for music production, go ahead and ask us in the comments section. We’d be happy to help out wherever we can.