Creating, performing and producing music has never been easier or more accessible. If you own one of best laptops for music production, with a few small steps, you can access the kinds of technology once the preserve of professional studios. From comprehensive ‘band in a box’ tools to expansive multitrack recording environments, the things you can do now with little more than a consumer laptop are staggering.
We think it’s a great hobby, and one we want to share. In this guide, we’ll give some tips for choosing a laptop designed for gaming and making music in your home recording studio. Read on to learn all about the specs you’ll need, how you can optimize it for recording, as well as tips on specific details to look out for when choosing a laptop for recording music.
1. Start with the specification
When choosing a laptop to record music, you will need this laptop to achieve certain things. Key among these is pure, unadulterated performance. Fancy features like branded speakers, touchscreens, or 4K resolution are nice to have, but they’re not essential for a music production laptop. Everything here revolves around your CPU, RAM, and storage media. Each of these components will determine how much work you can do and how quickly you can do it.
The processor controls how quickly your laptop will process things and how many of those things it can do at once. Virtual instruments, plugins, and other processing tasks all use CPU, and you’ll quickly find things stall if your CPU isn’t up to the job at hand. Intel Core i5 and later, or AMD Ryzen 5 and later, should give you enough power to get most tasks done.
RAM controls the amount of data held in the laptop’s short-term memory. This manifests in the number of audio tracks you can have in your arrangement, or the number of individual samples you can use. Ideally, you want more than 8 GB here. Less than that, and you’ll find that you’re working with digital audio workstations (DAWs) can be a harrowing experience. It’s also worth seeing if this can be upgraded in the future, which is a fairly simple job but has a big impact on performance.
Finally, the storage medium is arguably the least important of the three factors we’ve outlined, but definitely the one to keep in mind. While traditional hard drives (HDDs) can store huge volumes of files and data, they aren’t the fastest at getting that data where it needs to be. To that end, you should look for solid-state drives (SSDs) that offer super-fast data transfer speeds. So, for example, you can store large libraries of samples and stream them to your DAW without glitches or other issues.
2. Stay on budget
Ah, finance, the cruel mistress. While we would all like to spec a top of the line AppleMacBook Pro, there are certain economic realities that the vast majority of us have to deal with. It is therefore important to have an idea of how much you are willing to spend before heading to online stores. Our guide to choosing a budget laptop presents some great options at the lower end of the scale but, as with everything, you get what you pay for. For us the jump in performance once you get past the $/£500 mark makes this the sweet spot for a basic machine suitable for music production.
3. Design and Features
As we mentioned above, what you will be using the laptop for should be kept in mind. If purchased for the sole purpose of producing music, go hard on the spec sheet. Squeeze as much CPU, RAM, and storage media as you can out of your hard-earned cash and skip those fancy headline-grabbing features. Touchscreens and aesthetics are excellent, but not at the expense of performance.
That said, go for SSDs over HDDs when possible, and in terms of connectivity, it’s safe to assume external peripherals and gear like MIDI keyboards and audio interfaces will switch to USB-C in the future, so make sure you’re well-stocked in those areas.
Also consider battery life. Although many, if not most, studios using laptops set them up in a static location, the benefits of portability should not be ignored. Throwing your entire studio setup into a backpack and working on the beach or on a mountain, for example, is a liberating experience and one you can’t do with a desktop computer. computer.
4. Software and apps
The relationship between hardware and software is closely linked in music production. A laptop is only as good as the software it runs, and the software is only as good as the laptop allows. Apple has a clear advantage here in that Logic Pro X, its proprietary DAW, is designed specifically to work only with Apple’s operating system and as such there is an inherent performance boost. All of this, to coin a phrase, just works.
Windows laptops, on the other hand, still have plenty to choose from, including Ableton Live, Cubase, and Avid’s Pro Tools, each with their pros and cons. Apple apps aside, any decent spec laptop should be able to handle projects from any major DAW. Which leaves you with another decision to make, and one we cover here.
It’s reasonable to ask how long you plan – or hope – to be out of your laptop. Technology moves so quickly these days and it’s easy to get caught up in a competition to always have the fastest and most powerful machine. It’s worth keeping an eye out if your chosen laptop can be upgraded yourself in the future.
Windows-based machines, especially those in the gaming realm, often allow the user to upgrade individual components like RAM or storage without much hassle. However, music production is still possible on older computers, using the methods we describe here.
6. Essential supplements
Although the laptop itself is the brains of the operation, there are definitely other elements you’ll want to incorporate to get the most out of the technology. An audio interface, which outsources the audio processing capability of the laptop, will allow you to connect audio inputs – instruments and microphones – with audio outputs like studio monitors and headphones.
Likewise, external equipment such as controller keyboards and grooveboxes like those from Native Instruments Machine can all extend the capabilities of your platform. USB acts as the gateway here, so you’ll need to make sure you have good connectivity in the laptop or that the gear in question can run through a hub – not all gear can, so make sure you to do your research in advance.
7. Drivers and compatibility
Audio driver compatibility is important in music production. Most of the audio equipment and software you will use works using ASIO drivers for audio, which may be mixed depending on your laptop. When working properly, they enable recording and performance with low latency, which means almost instantaneous feedback of what you play and what the laptop hears. When they don’t, they can be a nightmare full of pops, crackles, glitches, and sync issues.
In our experience, Apple has the upper hand when it comes to drivers, requiring little effort or thought. Windows, on the other hand, can be annoying and sometimes requires a bit of forum searching to fix some issues. It’s fine – rewarding, even – if you’re handy with computers, but if the thought of struggling with settings leaves you cold, we advise you to think seriously about the platform you choose.
8. First steps
As with any major purchase, our advice is simple. Identify what you’re trying to accomplish and start outlining what’s important, what’s just “nice to have,” and what you can live without. For the hobbyist looking to get into composing and recording, while running regular laptop functions like email and video calls, a Windows machine with the specs we talked about earlier will work just fine. Good. For the more serious or advanced user, we’ll point you to either a more capable Windows laptop like the Dell XPS line, or the Apple ecosystem with a MacBook Pro.
Music production is, for us, one of the most rewarding ways to express your creativity. The technology we choose to work with should, ideally, run silently in the background, facilitating our work without ever being the center of attention. By researching – as you do – and making the right choices, you should end up with a laptop that will serve you well for the foreseeable future.