So you want to buy a new computer for your home recording studio? And you want to know which is the best computer for music production and audio recording. Actually this is one of those questions where there is no one right answer. Your personal choice of computer will depend very much on your individual situation.
So, in this post, rather than simply getting a recommendation for the best system, we will give you a framework to make your own decision.
The first computer I purchased for home music production turned out to be a spectacularly expensive mistake. The main reason? I was eager to purchase the biggest and best machine available at the time without really knowing how I was going to use it.
It was an ‘all the gear but no idea’ moment. In retrospect, the best advice I would give my younger self would be to actually work with what I already had, buy a decent microphone and audio interface, and learn some skills before committing to a really big computer purchase!
Table of contents
- Computer vs Tablet
- Mac vs Windows PC
- Base Level System Requirements
- Laptop vs Desktop
- Tower/Desktop vs the All-In-One Computer
- Bestselling All-In-Ones
- How to Optimize your Computer for Home Music Production
- What Else Do You Need in a Basic Home Recording Studio Setup?
- Final Thoughts
- You Might Also Like …
Most of us have to make a little budget go a long way. Especially when just getting started. In the area of computers, though, you can be a little bit more flexible than with your other studio gear. Especially if you are a newbie.
Remember, we are talking about audio processing here. Most modern computers can surprisingly handle the workload for recording, even many of the most basic consumer PCs.
The benefit of a bigger, better, more expensive computer is simply storage and power. Instant loading of programs, files, and seamless production, with the ability to render high quality audio without taxing your system.
Yes, a lower budget computer will struggle a little bit with loading softwares and plugins. And it may take a bit longer to load a VST plugin into your DAW. But if you’re simply getting started and doing your own music production in your own time, then a reasonable spec budget PC is probably the way to go.
Your main aim is to get started with something, and learn your craft.
Nowadays, nearly every computer on the market is good enough to use for basic sound recording, editing and mixing. Heck, you can even use an iPad. But, if you are at the stage where you really want to buy a new computer anyway, and you know you want to get into, or extend, home music production, then here are a few things to consider.
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Computer vs Tablet
Is it really possible to base a decent home recording studio around an Apple iPad? Well, given the huge amount of recording gear and apps made specifically for this purpose, the answer is a tentative yes. An iPad is so portable, it can be the audio recording and mixing device you always have with you. What is more many of the major DAWs (Digital Audio Workstation Software) have an iPad app too so you can create ideas on your tablet on the go, and then work in more detail when you get back to your main computer.
And Garageband is simply an incredible music production app for beginners, that is completely free. Brilliant.
But. For serious home music production, an iPad is just not enough of a beast. For sheet music apps, on the go recording, a scratchpad for ideas while your are mobile, it is excellent. And super-portable.
However, if you are considering an iPad purchase specifically for home studio recording, do consider a Microsoft Surface Pro instead. The Surface Pro has the benefit of being able to run full versions of DAWs, because it is a full-blown Windows machine, and yet has the versatility of a tablet. In fact it is the creative’s portable computing solution. Simply the most powerful, flexible and useful tablet on the market.
Instead of a tablet …
Do think about this alternative portable recording option. How about buying a portable digital recorder so you can easily make high quality recordings while out and about? Then bring them home and edit further on your main computer. For example, the Zoom H6 Six-Track Portable Recorder is a serious, and portable, piece of recording kit.
Mac vs Windows PC
Back in the day you would almost always choose a Mac. It became the industry standard for media production. In the old days, the key music production systems were Logic and Pro tools. And they only worked on Macs. The situation has changed more recently. Pro tools is now available for Windows. And there is a world of choice of DAW software now. Nearly everything is dual platform.
Conversely, for 20 years FL Studio was only available on Windows. And so if FL Studio was your thing, you would certainly have chosen a PC. Nowadays, though, you can get a Mac version. Mixcraft is still Windows only. And while Mixcraft is not a massive pro DAW, it is a superb piece of music making software for beginners and those on a tight budget.
However, Logic is still Mac only. So, if you want Logic. You have to buy a Mac.
In other words, either will do the job, mostly. Unless you are very specific about a particular piece of software that is limited to one platform.
It’s all about budget … again
So, if you want to work in a professional industry studio, and you know that you have to familiarise yourself with their systems, a Mac might be a better choice. However, a Mac will almost certainly be the more expensive option. You can get a beast of a Windows machine for considerably less. Therefore, if budget is a huge factor, go with Windows. You simply get more for your money. And these days there is virtually no disadvantage.
And it is usually very straightforward to share files between different systems, so you should be able to switch platforms relatively easily.
Both Mac and Windows systems are reliable enough to produce, mix, and master any kind of music. The key thing is to make sure whichever you choose, you have plenty of RAM and the fastest processor you can afford. Remember that unless you want to get into serious video production, or use masses of plugins all at once, you can make excellent audio recordings on a reasonably modest machine. Audio production is nowhere near as resource hungry as video production and high-level gaming.
Base Level System Requirements
Here is one easy way of choosing a computer. Simply pick the software that you most want to use. Be it Cubase, Pro Tools, Ableton Live, FL Studio …. etc. Check the system requirements for that software, and make sure you purchase a laptop or desktop that exceeds the minimum. If you base your choice around a popular high-end DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) you won’t go wrong.
Don’t know which software you want to use yet, but still want to buy the computer? Here are base level specifications that should allow you to use most modern recording software and DAWs.
A processor with a speed of at least 2.5 GHz and up. Ideally 3+ GHz. Quad, or octa core is best: the processor will be able to handle more multitasking (especially if you have your sound files stored on the same disk as your OS and plugins).
Intel Core i5 or an AMD equivalent are your base options.
A hard drive with at least 500 GB is acceptable if you plan to use it to mix and master. You should have enough space to save all your music. However, you will need more space if you have a large sample library to store.
However, 1 TB is definitely better. This is especially if you do beat-making, composing for film or game, songwriting, or any similar production work. Your library will grow more and more over time. It is always possible, though, to use an external hard drive to expand your disk space.
If you can, always go for solid state drive (SSD). They are essentially flash drives with no moving parts. SSD works faster, is mechanically more reliable, and is quieter too.
The optimum setup is to have 2 hard drives. One for your system files and applications, the other for your sound libraries and samples. This is the most streamlined and fastest way to work. And is an easy upgrade if you choose the desktop PC route.
A computer uses memory to quickly store and cache files so that it doesn’t have to keep referring to the main hard drive. This is called random-access memory (or RAM). The larger the RAM, the better, especially when dealing with large libraries and sound files.
16 GB is the base requirement for industry-standard Pro Tools.
This is one where Windows machines are much more generous with the availability of USB ports. With a new mac you will need some kind of dock, unless you have a thunderbolt audio interface. Pro Tools requires a USB port for the iLok dongle – other software may require a similar device for copyright reasons. So pick a machine with the most USB ports you can. Or if you want to buy a Mac, budget for a dock too.
Read and re-read the reviews of any machine you are going to buy. Make sure it is ultra-quiet. Beware of noisy fans and drives. Go for a machine with SSD if your budget allows. It is the quietest option.
Laptop vs Desktop
With the growth of mobility, and the requirement to be able to work ‘on the go’ in many ways, desktop computers have become much more of a niche purchase. Yet for music recording, video production, and really serious gaming, a desktop is what many the pros continue to use. Does that mean you have to buy a desktop machine?
No, not necessarily. Not if it makes more sense for you to purchase a laptop.
Unless you have the luxury of being able to purchase a computer solely for home music production, it is likely your computer will have to be able to multi-task. i.e. for office work, admin and internet browsing as well as audio editing and mixing.
However, if you are able to contemplate a desktop machine, here are some of the advantages:
- A desktop computer is generally faster. The large housing offers room for maximum processing power to meet the high demands of today’s DAW’s and plugins.
- It will probably have more inputs and outputs. Brilliant if you need to connect up lots of outboard recording gear
- You can customise the setup of a desktop computer more easily. You can add more RAM, additional hard drives, easily upgrade your video card, and more if necessary.
- They solve a noise problem, it is easier to separate the tower from your studio monitors and microphones than it is a laptop.
However, at the end of the day a desktop computer is NOT portable. So if you need your recording studio to be mobile, and/or you want to DJ, then it is almost certain you will want to go the laptop route. Furthermore, you can get a lot more for a smaller budget with a laptop computer.
And if you need a laptop anyway, for school, college or work, then purchasing two different systems may not be an option. You might have to go the laptop route.
Do not worry, it is perfectly possible to get exceptionally high quality recordings using a laptop. So choose the system that suits your lifestyle and budget.
If you do go the laptop route, here are some key things to consider before purchase.
If you are using your laptop in a live situation, as a DJ for instance, the noise may not be an issue. But in a bedroom home recording studio, noise matters. Opt for a SSD (Solid State Drive) if you can. Much quieter and faster. Otherwise, you may have to think how you separate the noise from your laptop from your mics.
Especially if you work in a low-light environment. Backlit keys are a godsend when you are searching for your keyboard shortcuts in the semi-dark.
OK, so you foresake portability but go for the biggest screen you can. DAWs take up a lot of screen real estate. Or, budget for an external monitor.
Make sure you have enough inputs and outputs for your audio interface and other outboard gear. Apple changed the rules with their last release of Macbooks, and now you have to buy dongles and docks to expand the connectivity. Maybe a reason to go Windows instead, if you’re budget is tight?
Tower/Desktop vs the All-In-One Computer
Let’s say you have decided not to go the laptop route. You’re going desktop. So, your next decision. You have to decide on the ‘form’ of your desktop machine. This refers to the shape, design and setup of the physical system itself.
Tower cases are built with a vertical chassis. They generally take up a small floor space, so they can fit in a tighter spot on your studio floor or desk. Also they a more spacious inside, making them easier to get into if you want to upgrade their internal components.
The ability to upgrade components as you expand your recording studio is a huge plus. And you can really get a huge amount of power for your money. This kind of computer is very customisable to your own requirements, and is therefore the most flexible.
The main disadvantage of a tower case computer is that they don’t usually come with their own display unit. So you have the added expense of a monitor, keyboard, and other peripherals. You also need to find room for them, usually below your desk. (Having said that, many are designed to stand on your desk… but then you need a big desk!)
Some desktop PC’s are designed with a horizontal chassis, although this seems to be much less common these days. One benefit of the horizontal desktop pc is it could be fitted on your studio equipment rack. The main disadvantage is the space it takes up on your desk.
All-In-One PC – or Apple iMac
An all-in-one PC computer has everything built into one unit, which is designed around a monitor. You can opt for a Windows All-In-One PC or an Apple iMac. The main advantage of the all-in one (both Windows and Mac) is that you get a monitor with your purchase. And often the monitor is huge, and high resolution. This makes on-screen editing a joy.
As a purchase, all-in-ones are the fastest and easiest to set up and get going right out of the box. The main disadvantage is that an all-in-one computer makes changing internal components difficult. If you have to change or upgrade something, you’d have to either ship the entire thing back to the manufacturer, leaving you without a computer, or get a brand new computer instead. This is because since everything is built into one unit. Hard drive, CPU, and monitor.
So the all-in-one looks great, and takes up less room on your desk. But it is nowhere near as flexible as the tower/desktop option.
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How to Optimize your Computer for Home Music Production
Once you have made your decision, and your brand new computer is up and running, here a few tips to make sure you get the best results in your home recording studio.
- Change the power option to high performance
- Disable all the system sounds; you don’t want any computer sounds interfering with the recordings
- Change the processor scheduling to background service
- Disable updates
- Turn off animated windows
- Disable Anti-Virus apps and Firewall apps
- Update your network adapter driver
- Disconnect the internet … or at least all the social media apps. One, they are a distraction. Two, they will interupt your workflow.
- Carefully read the set-up guide for any audio interfaces and other devices you are using. Use the recommended buffer sizes etc.
- De-install unused programs, and occasionally use the Disk Optimization Tool (on Windows) to tune up your computer.
What Else Do You Need in a Basic Home Recording Studio Setup?
Here is a quick checklist of basic essentials for a typical home recording studio setup.
- Headphones and Speakers: You will at least need a pair of high-quality studio headphones. And if your budget allows, buy a good set of studio monitors (powered speakers) too. These will deliver a neutral sound you can mix perfectly, and accurately assess the quality of recordings
- Audio Interface: One of the key hardware components of any home recording studio. The audio interface is the device that enables you to get high quality recordings whether you have mac or pc, laptop or tablet. There is a huge variety of audio interfaces available. Click this link to discover the best audio interfaces on the market.
- Stands and Cables: You’ll need good quality audio cables to connect a microphone, guitar or keyboard to your audio interface along with cables to connect your audio interface to your speakers. Some kind of microphone stand is a must. And you may also need a good pair of speaker stands.
- Microphone: There are basically two options to connect a microphone up to your computer. You can purchase a USB microphone, or record through an audio interface.
- Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) / Recording Software: The type of software depends on the kind of recording you are planning to do. If it’s just record and edit, with some basic multi-tracking, then Audacity Recording Software (free software) will do the job. An alternate software could be to try Reaper (with its 60 day free trial), which is the complete cost-effective package if you want a DAW. Take a look at some other ideas for great music making software.
- MIDI Keyboard Controller: A good MIDI Keyboard Controller is essential if you want to create your own music sheet or work with virtual instruments. Even if you are not a keyboard player, you will find a MIDI controller the best way to enter bass lines, tap out drum tracks etc
I hope this guide has helped you to find the ideal computer for your home recording studio.
The main takeaway is start with your budget. Then decide on the ideal computer for your situation. Finally, decide on the main way you want to use it in your studio. That way, you can narrow down the minimum requirements you will need. Happy music production, whatever you decide.