The first and most important step you’ll make when piecing together a home studio is deciding on a computer that’s suitable for music production. Alternatively, you might be simply looking to upgrade from your current computer. In either case, it’s vital that you know the best computer specs for music production when doing your research.
The goal of this guide is to clearly lay out the minimum requirements for a good music production computer, but I’ll also be taking things a step further. This article will break down all of the specifications individually. I’ll also give you my favorite picks of all the components associated with each spec in case you want to build your own PC.
Additionally, we’ll go over the Mac vs. PC debate, and whether or not you should get a laptop or desktop computer.
Minimum Computer Specs For Music Production
First things first, here’s a quick little specification cheat sheet that you can refer to later on.
- CPU: 2.4Ghz multi-core processor (Intel i5 or higher; AMD Ryzen 5 or higher).
- Memory: 8GB or higher.
- Operating System: 64-bit operating system.
- Internal Storage: 500GB SSD (avoid internal HDD).
- External Storage: An additional 500GB of storage for your samples should be sufficient; this can be either SSD or HDD.
- Screen/Monitor Size: 13” or larger.
- Graphics: The built-in graphics card is just fine.
Why Do You Need A Computer With These Specs?
It’s a well known fact that a computer is one of the most expensive investments you’ll make in terms of home studio equipment. Some folks think that you can just go out and buy any normal computer and that’s all they’ll need. This is most certainly not the case.
Music production software can be very taxing on a CPU. This is dependent on the Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) you use as well as the amount of plugins working simultaneously. Moreover, certain plugins are also hard on RAM and the CPU on their own. In any regard, all of this begins to add up quickly.
If you don’t have a powerful computer to handle all of this processing, then you’re sure to see some problems arise. For example, a weak CPU will cause continuous crashes and frequent audio cut-outs. Insufficient RAM will limit you in terms of how many tracks you can record as well as how many plugins you can use at the same time.
On top of all that, running music production software on a computer that can’t handle it can potentially cause the computer to degrade faster than usual. In summary, music production software requires a powerful computer. Music production in a home studio runs in the same lane as intense video editing or intricate graphic design. It’s complex and it can put a lot of stress on a computer.
To further prove this point, most of the companies that make DAWs have their own minimum recommended computer specs to run their software. Here are a few examples of this from the most popular DAWs:
Those are just a few examples, but you can see the similarities. Every DAW out there clearly states that they require a quality computer with strong components.
The reality is that computers with these specs usually cost a pretty penny. There are some that can run you from around $200-$500 on the cheap end. That being said, cutting corners with a music production computer isn’t usually a good idea.
In my case, I use a Lenovo Thinkpad P53 laptop for music production. It has a 9th Gen i7 quad-core CPU, 16GB of RAM with additional empty slots to add more, and 500GB of internal SSD storage. It cost $1400, but it never misses a beat. I also still have plenty of storage left, even with my already vast sample libraries.
All of this is just to say that your budget plays a part, but it’s wise to save up for a premium computer for your music production dreams.
Breaking Down Each Specification
Okay, so now that you know the overview of specifications to look for in a computer for music production, it’s time to learn about each one in more detail. This can help you learn about what the jobs that each component has for making music. Alternatively, if you plan on building your own PC, then you can use this list as a reference point as you piece everything together.
CPU (Processor): Which Ones Are Best For Music Production?
The CPU (or Central Processing Unit) is the most vital component of a computer meant for music production. It’s the brain of a computer. Not only does the CPU process and enable everything a DAW is capable of, but it also does that for all VST plugins and virtual instruments.
Virtually everything you do in the process of producing music is handled by the CPU. Every calculation and every bit of analysis.
The faster the CPU, the more it can handle in terms of calculations in a particular time frame. What this means is that the chances of it being overloaded are drastically reduced. You can confidently throw a large number of VST effects and virtual instruments at your computer and it won’t falter.
Nowadays, there are two main CPU brands that everyone uses: AMD and Intel. AMD has gained a lot of traction in recent years, whereas Intel is well established.
The brand doesn’t matter as much as the number of cores the CPU has as well as its clock speed. Multiple cores help to disperse the CPUs load, increasing overall speed. Clock speed is the measure of the overall processing power of the CPU, described in GHz. My minimum recommendation here is a clock speed of 2.4GHz in a quad-core system.
All in all, the CPU is probably the most crucial component of a music-making computer. Given that fact, the more powerful the CPU you get, the better. The last thing you want to do is settle for a lower-quality processor.
Best Intel CPU – Intel Core i5-10600k
Best AMD CPU- AMD Ryzen 5 5600X
RAM (Memory): How Much RAM Is Adequate For Music Production?
Random-access memory, or RAM, is the next important component of a computer for producing music. The general rule of thumb here is, “you can never have too much RAM.” RAM allows for your computer to hold a certain amount of data for immediate access. The more RAM you have means a higher amount of simultaneous tasks that can be performed.
The benefits of a high amount of RAM are abundant. Hence, why I recommend a minimum of 8GB of RAM.
Also, a lot of PC motherboards out there allow you to upgrade your RAM, and others even offer extra empty slots so you can add more down the road.
If you’re a Mac fan, upgrading and replacing RAM isn’t quite as easy. Generally, Macs have the RAM sticks soldered directly on the motherboard, so what you get is all you’ll ever have. With that, you can simply get a Mac with 16GB or higher to make up for it.
64-Bit Vs. 32-Bit Operating Systems
64-bit operating systems are all you’ll find nowadays. They are the gold standard for any and all software, but what does it even mean?
Well, the number of bits refers to the units of data the processor can handle. This is completely unrelated to the number of cores the processor has. Basically, the operating system is the buffer between the hardware processor and all of the software on a computer.
Prior to 64-bit, the standard was 32-bit for a long time. 32-bit operating systems are only able to run applications using only 4GB of RAM simultaneously. With a 64-bit operating system, there are virtually no limitations in how much RAM can be used to run applications.
Best RAM sticks – Corsair Vengeance
Internal Storage (SSD): What Amount Of Storage Is Necessary For Music Production?
You wouldn’t get very far in your music production endeavors without having a place to store your sounds. It’s no secret that you’re going to need quite a lot of it as well. Over any given period of time, you’ll start to rack up a large amount of samples, plugins, drumpacks, and who knows what else.
Now, when it comes to storage, there are two important factors to consider: storage capacity and speed.
I recommend giving yourself 1TB of storage capacity, 500GB internal and 500GB external. The reason I differentiate between internal and external storage is because of the speed factor. First, let’s focus on internal storage.
500GB of internal SSD (or Solid State Drive) will be faster and more reliable than HDD (Hard Disk Drive). This is necessary for all of the things you need to access quickly. Plus, this is where all of the bare essentials will be stored for your OS and other software components that make your computer run.
Similar to RAM, some PCs allow you to add more SSD storage sticks internally as well.
SSD has become the gold standard for storage on most computers nowadays. This is especially true for audio production. You’ll be able to drag and drop samples faster with SSD storage and the overall performance of your computer will be much better.
What About External Storage?
With external storage, you can keep all of your extra sounds stored safely. Basically, this is where you can put all of the stuff you don’t need immediate access to. Not only that, but you can store backups of all of your projects and your essential computer software on here as well.
I’d say 500GB of external storage should be good enough for most folks, but you can never have too much storage for music production. Also, this can be in the form of either SSD or HDD due to the fact that speed isn’t as crucial with your external storage.
Don’t forget, you can always expand your storage down the road. HDD isn’t horribly expensive nowadays so you can keep loading up as you multiply your sample libraries.
Best Internal SSD Storage Sticks – Samsung 970 EVO Plus 1TB
Best External SSD Storage – Samsung 870 EVO 1TB
Best External HDD Storage – WD Elements 2TB
Screen Size: Why A Bigger Screen Is Always Better For Music Production?
No matter if you plan on using a laptop, or a desktop with monitors, you’ll need a high-resolution screen that’s a decent size. The reason being is that most DAWs have intricate user interfaces. There are tons of parameters to see and a lot of information spread around the computer screen. A lot of this stuff is small, and on a smaller screen you’d be straining your eyes to see everything.
On top of that, a bigger screen will make everything easier to access. On a smaller screen, you’d have to do a lot of scrolling to make adjustments on the timeline, or to jump between tracks and plugins. Overall, music production definitely requires a screen size of 13” or larger whether it be on a laptop or a separate monitor.
If you plan on using a separate computer monitor for your production process, then I’d recommend opting for a dual monitor setup. There’s a lot of flexibility you can introduce to your music production workflow with two good-sized monitors. You can also go for an ultra-wide curved monitor, but those tend to be pretty expensive.
Best Monitors for Dual setup – ASUS ProArt Display PA278QV
Best Budget Single Monitor – ASUS VZ279HE
Best Curved Monitor – LG 34WN80C-B
GPU (Graphics Card): Do You Need An Upgraded GPU For Music Production?
In short, no. The stock GPU on any computer will be just fine for music production. I know that I said earlier that most DAWs have intricate user interfaces, but they’re not “graphic intensive” so to speak.
At the end of the day, a high-end GPU has nothing to offer for making music on a computer.
Soundcard: What Soundcard Do You Need If You Plan On Using An Audio Interface?
In reality, most producers will end up using an audio interface to handle most of their sound processing tasks. I mean, an audio interface is basically a supremely upgraded external soundcard anyway. They’re specifically designed for recording and playing back audio in a music studio environment.
With that, the onboard soundcard in most computers are subpar in comparison to an audio interface. In summary, don’t use the computer’s internal soundcard for anything more than YouTube videos or Spotify.
For a more in depth look at audio interfaces, check out my guide here!
Laptop vs. Desktop For Music Production
So, I’ve hinted at this a few times throughout this article, and it’s actually completely up to you whether you use a laptop or desktop computer for music production. That being said, there are a number of pros and cons to each type for music production.
Laptops are very popular for home producers because they’re portable, lightweight, and can still be hooked up to external display monitors. Also, modern laptops can certainly be more than powerful enough in terms of specs for music production. The downside to laptops is their limitations with connectivity, and battery life.
On the other hand, desktop computers are super fast, very powerful, and lend you some additional opportunities in terms of connectivity. You don’t need to worry about battery life with them and their CPUs also tend to stay a lot cooler than CPUs in laptops. The cons with desktops is the amount of space they take up in a home music production environment.
Neither option is necessarily better than the other. It all comes down to your individual preferences. Like I said, I use a laptop for my music productions, but sometimes I wish I had a desktop computer. I’m sure if I had a desktop I’d wish for a laptop from time to time. Think about your current studio environment, and what your goals are, and decide from there which route you want to go.
Mac vs. PC For Music Production
The age-old debate still doesn’t have a clear winner. The reality is that neither platform is better than the other. You can create great music on either Mac or PC, and again, it comes down to your preference.
There are a couple factors that impact this decision, but keep in mind that no matter which one you go with, you’ll still be able to produce music all the same.
Which DAW Do You Want To Use?
Most DAWs run on both Mac and PC nowadays. In fact, with FL Studio 20 finally offering support for Mac, you can decide between the top DAWs in terms of popularity without worrying about it working on either computer platform.
Pro Tools, Ableton, Studio One are a few more examples of DAWs that work on both, and there are even more than that. There is one very popular piece of DAW software that only works on Mac though, and that’s Logic.
Logic is a DAW well-known for it’s amazing stock plugins and intuitive workflow system. In fact, a lot of producers get Macs specifically for Logic. That’s really the only deciding factor here. If you want to use Logic then go for a Mac, otherwise you can use most other DAWs on both platforms.
It’s no secret that Macs typically cost more than PCs. You can easily piece together a very powerful PC for less than a pre-built Mac. So, if you can’t afford to spend multiple thousands of dollars on a Mac, then PC is the way to go.
Maintenance & Upgradability
I mentioned earlier in this article that most PCs have detachable housings so you can upgrade components and maintain the motherboard. Unfortunately, Apple does not make this easily possible with their computers.
You need a special tool to take Macs or Macbooks apart. Also, the RAM and storage drives are usually soldered on the motherboard. So, if you really want a computer that you can clean, maintain, and upgrade yourself, then PC is the best choice.
Apple’s Macs and Macbooks are extremely well-made. There are Macs and Macbooks out there that are over 10 years old that still work great. That being said, some PC brands also make their computers to a similar standard.
If you’re concerned about having a very durable computer for your studio, then you can’t go wrong with Mac, but some PC brands will still hold up well. As far as motherboard quality goes, Mac takes the cake 9 times out of 10 over PC.
The look and feel of a computer isn’t nearly as important as it’s performance, but some folks care about these things. Obviously, Macs and Macbooks tend to have better aesthetics than PCs, but your decision shouldn’t reside on this criteria.
Compatibility & Connectivity
This is a tricky one. Mac has a tendency to make life difficult with VST plugin compatibility, whereas PC offers a lot of freedom in that area. Most VST makers have gotten better about making their products more universally compatible, but you might still have some frustrations with a Mac.
Some external devices like MIDI keyboards, hardware synthesizers and audio interfaces can have issues with compatibility on either platform as well. This just depends on the manufacturer of those devices, so be sure to check reviews and user manuals to avoid any potential problems.
As far as connectivity, PCs usually come loaded with all sorts of ports. Macs usually just give you the bare essentials, but if you think you’ll want more flexibility, then consider opting for a PC.
Security & Resilience To Viruses
PCs and Windows are infamous for their weak security and their susceptibility to viruses. Anti-virus protection usually makes matters worse for PCs as well. The only thing you can do is be extra careful if you plan on using a PC.
Alternatively, Apple has done a great job of making their computers very safe. They have unprecedented security protection, and rarely do they become infected. Mac has been the winner in this area for a long time now.
Mac vs. PC: Summary
Again, neither Mac or PC offer more benefits than the other. If you’re on a budget, then go for a PC. You’ll likely have to do a lot more research to decide on a PC computer due to the abundance of options, but there are definitely a few great PC options for music production.
If you can afford a Mac, then you really can’t go wrong. There are fewer options to choose from, and each one is of the highest quality.
The Best Computers For Music Production
So, given everything we’ve gone over, it’s only fair to show you some of the most popular computers for music production on the market. There are a number of other options outside of this list, but this definitely rounds out the top choices among producers.
Best Mac Desktop – Apple iMac M1
Best Mac Laptop – Apple Macbook Pro M1
Best PC Desktop – Dell XPS 8940
Best PC Laptop – Dell XPS 15
There you have it! You now should have everything you need to choose the right computer for your music making journey. Keep in mind that these are the minimum recommend computer specs for music production. If you feel like you’re going to take on bigger jobs, then definitely go as big as you want with your next computer.
My only goal was to give you some good guidelines to follow during your research. In any regard, feel free to reach out with any questions you may have.