What’s the Best MacBook for Making Music?

Updated January 2012: What’s the best MacBook for making music? Is it the MacBook Pro or MacBook Air? What size is best? 11 inch, 13 inch, 15 inch or 17 inch?

This article considers Mac OS X Lion and the latest 2011 / 2012 MacBook Air models with faster Intel Core i5 & i7 processors.

If your planning to buy a Mac laptop for music, there’s some links at the end of the article where you can save some money.

Which MacBook for Making Music? Things to Consider

Here are questions to consider to see which would be the best MacBook music rig:

  1. Do you want a new or secondhand Mac Book?
  2. Do you want the “best possible setup” (you’re happy to spend a lot) or a “good enough setup” (spend just enough money to get the job done)?
  3. Do you know what music software you’ll use? (e.g. Logic, ProTools, Cubase, Live, GarageBand, Reaktor, Kontakt, Traktor, Reason, Sibelius, Vienna Symphonic Library)
  4. Do you have any existing instrument or sample libraries?
    If so, how big are they?
  5. Will the Mac always be used in a portable music setup, or mostly in one place?

To set the scene for your purchase, you may want consider the different ways you might use your Mac to create music, and in what settings:

  • Will you be recording real instruments? Does you sound interface use USB or Firewire? (MacBook Pro models all have Firewire. MacBook Air models don’t have Firewire.)
  • Will you be using the Mac at home, in a studio or at gigs? (If you’re moving around, smaller MacBooks are more convenient.)
  • Will you be using pre-recorded samples or loops? Will you be loading sampled instruments, e.g. Galaxy Steinway piano? (MacBook’s hard disks will generally be big enough to swallow lots of sample and instrument libraries. MacBook Airs have faster but smaller capacity flash storage – a consideration if you have a large amount of music tracks, software and samples.
  • Will you be using any special hardware, e.g. the Guitar Rig pedal. (Is your hardware compatible with Mac OS X Lion on new Macs?)
  • Will you be scoring music? Will you need to print sheet music? (Is your software compatible with Mac OS X Lion?)
  • Will you be using the Mac to play live? Might you do some live DJ’ing, mixing and beat matching (e.g. using Acid)? (Is your MacBook big enough for the screen to be useable, but small enough to be easy to carry around?)
  • Will you be making soundtracks? (If so, you’ll probably want a bigger screen to make room for the video track.)

My friend’s answer to these questions were:

I’m looking to use Ableton, with a portable set up and about 30GB worth of sounds/synths. I guess I would like bang for buck as opposed to spending for no reason, but if it’s worth it I will get it. Something that I would use live but I also travel a lot, so portability is important.

Here’s the good news. All Macs are great for music.

All the MacBooks are Good

All the current model MacBook Pro and MacBook Air models are good for making music.

So, really it’s a choice between:

  1. MacBook Air – 11 inch
  2. MacBook Air – 13 inch
  3. MacBook Pro – 13 inch
  4. MacBook Pro – 15 inch
  5. MacBook Pro – 17 inch

Let’s look at choosing between MacBook sizes first of all.

Choosing Between MacBook Air and MacBook Pro Sizes

In choosing between the sizes, there’s a trade off between three factors.

No. 1: How Big a Screen Do You Need for Making Music with Your Mac “On the Road”?

When making music, it’s great to have a big screen, so you can see and get straight to all your tracks and virtual instruments.

You’ll probably find the smaller screen MacBooks (MacBook Air 11″, MacBook Air 13″, MacBook Pro 13″) cramped for making music. They’ll be lots of scrolling and shuffling windows around.

You might be okay with a smaller screen if you’ve just recording a few live instruments or if your patient.

The 15 inch MacBook Pro screen is workable, and 17 inch MacBook Pro screen is good.

You don’t necessarily need a big screen on the laptop. If you’re mostly making music in one place, I’d recommend buy a 23 inch external thin HD screen for $170 that’s great to work off. (I have one! – cheap HD display for MacBook Air.)

No. 2: How Much Weight are You Prepared to Lug Around?

The 17 inch is a lot to lug around. I would not recommend travelling with it unless you really, really want a big screen.

I’ve travelled with a 15 inch every day for a year. I’m over it! It’s just big enough to be awkward.

If you can cope with the smaller screen, and you can get to a big screen when you want to work quickly, the 13 inch will be by far the best to travel with. It won’t take over your entire backpack!

No. 3: Do You Need the Power of a Quad Core CPU Versus a Dual Core CPU for Making Music?

The 13 inch MacBook Pro has two CPU cores. The 15 and 17 inch models have four CPU cores. This means that a 15 inch or 17 inch can handle roughly twice as many tracks as the 13 inch, before you need tricks like “freezing” or “bouncing” tracks to disk.

Still the 13 inch will handle a bunch of tracks. It will handle a bunch of virtual instruments, samples and recorded vocals and live instruments.

If you’re doing massive arrangements with 60 tracks and giant orchestral libraries with heaps of effects like convolution reverb, you’d really appreciate the quad core models (15 and 17 inch). Otherwise, you may not even notice the difference in power between a dual core and quad core.

No. 4: The Current MacBook Pro Models, and the Larger Screen MacBook Models May Be Quieter

Macs get hot from thinking hard, for example when playing back a 20 track music project with lots of virtual instruments and effects. When this happens, the fan runs to keep the processor from overheating. The harder the Mac works, the hotter it gets, and the faster the fan runs to compensate. The faster the fan runs the more noise the fan makes.

Since the heat also passively dissipates to the MacBook Air’s case, larger Macs may be able to sink more heat into the metal shell before the fan is seriously needed.

The current MacBook Air (the model released mid-2011) has a reputation of being a bit of a hot head. This may be because its the first generation of a processor technology from Intel that combines a Core i5 or i7 processor, with a graphics processor (HD3000 graphics) on one silicon chip. In the Pro, the processors are still on two separate chips, which may spread out the heat. Reports are the MacBook Air can get hot fast, even under moderate load. That means fan noise.

There is a fair bit of conjecture here: it hasn’t been measured, tested and proven that the Pro stays quieter longer than the Air. It hasn’t been proven that the smaller MacBooks need to fan earlier. I could be wrong.

I thought it’s better I mention it, as I have had a lot of people whinging about fan noise for the current model MacBook Air.

Best MacBook for Music – The Simple Answer

The “safe bet” for a MacBook Pro for easily-portable music production is a 15 inch MacBook Pro. The screen will be big enough, if not roomy, to work with. It’s okay to carry around. It’s got a quad core processor, so the technology is never likely to slow down your creativity – with a quad core you can have music projects with many, many tracks, virtual instruments and effects.

If you want really portable, and (i) if you can work off a big screen where you mainly create music, and (ii) if an 11 inch or 13 inch isn’t too small for you to create you’re out and about, and (iii) if you don’t have massively complicated music projects, you will probably fall in love with a MacBook Air 11″, MacBook Air 13″, or MacBook Pro 13″.

The MacBook Air is thinner, lighter, more portable than the MacBook Pro and has flash storage instead of hard disk. The flash storage (or solid state disk – SSD) is much faster than a hard disk, which is great for loading virtual instruments and music projects quickly. The downsize is flash storage is relatively expensive, so typical flash storage capacities are much less than hard disks. MacBook Air’s don’t have a built in DVD drive. If your music software comes on DVD, you’ll need to buy an external DVD drive from Apple ($79). You can read more about choosing a MacBook Air 11 vs 13.

If you want a big work space, don’t want to ever use an external monitor, and don’t care about lugging around a giant laptop, the MacBook Pro 17 inch is a amazing laptop for creativity. (It’s so wide, you can see your music tracks really well. It’s also great for doing video in the field, but that’s another story…)

The base models for all MacBook Pro sizes would serve your requirements well. For the MacBook Air’s, don’t buy the entry level model with 2GB of RAM and 64GB of flash storage. This will not be enough RAM or storage for most people making music with their Mac. All the other MacBook Air models have 4GB of RAM (good), with 128GB or 256GB of flash storage. If you don’t have a lot of music libraries you could get away with 128GB. If you’re a heavy user with lots of software, samples and virtual instruments, go for the 256GB. The cheaper i5 MacBook Air models have plenty of power for music; you can compare i7 vs i5 MacBook Air models here.

MacBook Air for a Music Production Setup?

You can use a MacBook Air for music. This is incredibly sexy, because the MacBook Air 11 inch weighs only one kilo. I throw a music keyboard, the Air and some portable speakers in a courier bag, and the Air handles a sample Fender Rhodes piano and a high-end sampled piano (Galaxy Steinway) in its stride.

I have the previous model MacBook Air, a late 2010 model, which has a more sluggish processor than the current model (a Core 2 Duo vs a Core i5 or i7), which has the advantage that it doesn’t get hot easily, so I haven’t gotten fan noise from just playing live. You may not want to use a late-2010 MacBook Air for serious multi-track music; it could struggle with a lot of tracks and effects. (Still you could freeze tracks to disk pretty easily.)

The MacBook Air 2011 / 2012 models (released 20 July 2011) have Intel Core i5 or i7 processors, making them up to 2.5 times faster than the previous models. A MacBook Pro 13 and a MacBook Air 13 have about the same music processing power. The MacBook Pro 15 & 17 have about double the music processing power of the 13 inch Air & Pro.

The i5 and i7 processors in the new MacBook Airs make them amazing for portable music! I never want to carry a MacBook Pro again. I can barely feel the weight of the MacBook Air in my backpack.

The MacBook Air has only two USB slots, so it can run an external music audio interface and a USB music keyboard at the same time.

If you won’t use an external monitor, the 13 inch Air would generally be a better choice than the 11 inch so you have enough “screen real estate” to work on your music.

Remember the caveat: Some people are complaining about fan noise from the current model MacBook Air.

Back to the MacBook Pro

All MacBook Pros come with at least 4GB of memory, which is great for music production. Typically only complex music projects, for example projects with many sampled instruments, would benefit from upgrading to 8GB of memory.

Most professional music producers end up with a lot of virtual instruments and sample libraries, as well as a big iTunes library of music. If this could be you, you may want to get the hard disk upgraded to the biggest size.

If you’re a speed freak (like me), and you love your music projects and virtual instruments to load very quickly, a solid state disk (SSD) is wonderful. As SSDs have no moving parts, they can get to samples in virtual instruments much faster, so an SSD can support more sampled instruments. SSDs are still quite expensive, particularly if you buy them as a factory option from Apple, instead of aftermarket. They also typically have lower storage capacities than hard disks. Think of an SSD as a high-end or luxury option for a music rig.

Is Your Music Software OS X Lion Compatible?

New Macs all come with OSX Lion, which is relatively new. Not all music software has been updated to be fully compatible with Lion yet. Check the music software’s website or Google for up-to-date information on compatible. For example, you can Google “propellerheads reason lion compatible” to find a webpage to answer if Reason is compatible with Lion.

If you’re buying a new Mac, make sure your music software runs properly on OS X Lion.

Save Money on New MacBooks

If you’d like to save money on new MacBooks, check out the prices here:

Look out for Mac laptops with free shipping.

Extra Tips

  1. For travel get a small and light external two channel audio interface to connect mics or instruments. (Or four channel, if you need it.)
  2. High end audio interfaces tend to use Firewire instead of USB. I’ve found Firewire interfaces to be more reliable and responsive than USB. There are posts on the net to back this up like this one. Apparently USB has been getting better over the years. If you buy a MacBook Pro, you’re in luck, because the MacBook Pro has both USB ports and a Firewire port, so you’ve got the option if you need it. (The MacBook Air doesn’t have a Firewire port built in. There’s plans for a 3rd party Firewire interface using the Thunderbolt port.) Firewire sound interfaces will typically only be relevant if you want to record 8+ tracks at once, or if you want super high quality recording or if you’ve got concert pianist like sensitivity to how quickly sounds play when you press keys.
  3. I love Presonus audio interfaces. I have one of their eight channel interfaces. They’re famous for having great mic preamps. Not cheap, but great quality.
  4. Rode Mic are an Australian microphone company who make very good quality mics at a great price. Registered mics get a ten year guarantee. I’ve had two of their mics. Highly recommended.
  5. M-Audio make good, cheap, light music keyboards with great feel. They plug straight into the Macs USB port. I have one. You can buy them in three sizes (49, 61 and 88 keys). Avoid the eKeys models – they’re not velocity sensitive (i.e. you can’t play softer by just press the keys more lightly).
  6. I recommending avoiding Behringer keyboards – the graduation between soft notes and loud notes is very sudden and natural.
  7. If you shop around on the Internet, you can find much better prices on audio interfaces, mics and keyboards than list price.

Do you want to get a studio quality sound? Then check out the Eight Essential Keys to Great Recordings.

Hope this helps you get a great MacBook for making music!

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85 Responses to What’s the Best MacBook for Making Music?

  1. Liam says:

    Fantastic article! Thanks very much.

    • Tasman Hayes says:

      You’re welcome Liam! :-)

    • Eduardo Espinosa says:

      Hello, I just bought a firewire 2626 interface for multiple trach recording for an old slow hp vista computer. I want to buy a MacPro Book. It has both firwire and usb3 connectors plus thunderbolt. Techs claim USB 3 is faster than firewire. Did I make a mistake in buying firew2626 interface? Aprox 350. Dollars. For aprox 100. Doll more should I get an interface with USB 3. Please explain other options for thunderbolt, is there an adopter for 3USB n Thunderbolt or what interfsce do you recimmend for the MP Book 13. I Love Mixcraft Pro Studio 6…do not want to deviate from it. I see how my brother struggles with vocals n virtual instruments with Garage Band…so I I am very concerned with speed n latency(my old computer) defenetly getting a MPC, so processor speed is a must for me, help ! Eddie.

  2. JP says:

    Really appreciate that. I will now purchase the 13″ MacBook Air. Great article, really helpful.
    Thanks.

  3. Matt says:

    Nice article, I am looking to buy a Macbook to use Ableton Live on and I see they aren’t making regular Macbooks anymore? I think the Air might be too small and the Pro too expensive..not sure, but i think i might go with the 13 inch air

  4. arthur says:

    awsome article, very knowledgeable but yet to the point,
    thank you
    arthur

  5. C. Thylstrup says:

    Very useful and nicely written!!!

    Thank you very much!

  6. Cip Casas says:

    I bought my first ever Mac two months ago, a 11inch Airbook 1.8 Ghz Intel Core i7 4GB
    to replace a very cheap windows laptop made in Miami Florida assembled in Bogota for export to Latinamerica, this worked great with Sibelius software, Garritan Orchestra, a hi end mini external sound card that fitted seamlessly in the card slot and a Garage Band Keyboard controller that I chose for its compact size and the fact it has nothing but keys . This has been my travel composer kit for a few years and I have composed music up to 24 simultaneous instruments on the go with no problems.
    I changed from cheap windows laptop to the Airbook 11 for extra power and less weight, it took me long hours of tedious e-mail correspondence during several weeks with Sibelius and avid help center to be able to install Sibelius 5, which is not totally compatible with Lion, having finally done this I found out that the GarageBand keyboard does not work well with my AirBook, even though it is designed for Macs the volume on the keys is almost inaudible unless you hit the keys really hard and then the volume is erratically from one key to the next making it impossible to play, I thought this could be because the air book 11 is so small, the watts from the USB would be insufficient to power a keyboard properly, so I connected the keyboard to both usb ports but this did not help, I bought a USB multiplier with a 5 volt adapter intake designed for this problem but this did not help either. I still have faith in this beautiful and allegedly powerful little laptop but it has ruined my two months trip around europe because I have not been able to compose any music. What can I do to make a small lightweight but good keyboard work with my Airbook?

    • Tasman Hayes says:

      Cip,

      I’m sorry to hear your having problems making music on your MacBook Air. It will be awhile before all the music software producers catch up to supporting Mac OS X Lion. I currently use a late-2010 model MacBook Air, that still runs Mac OS X Snow Leopard.

      The problem may not be your keyboard – it may be Sibelius incompatibilities with OS X Lion. Try your keyboard with the build in piano in GarageBand, and see if that works okay. If your keyboard works properly with GarageBand, the problem is software incompatibilities and you’ll need updated software or to switch to a different software package. If your keyboard still has issues with being quiet and inconsistent loudness when using it with Apple GarageBand, then the issue is most likely the keyboard, so try different keyboards.

      I use a M-Audio KeyRig 49: it’s light, it’s plays well, and it’s got good progressive response. It works with my late-2010 Mac Air. This does not guarantee it will work well with your mid-2011 MacBook Air, as it has a newer motherboard chipset providing USB. It’s a bit big to travel with, so you’d probably want a model with less keys. Avoid the M-Audio eKeys models, which are not velocity sensitive. I’d also avoid Behringer, based on my experience – horrible non-progressive velocity sensitivity – suddenly loud. Best to bring your MacBook Air into a music store and try different keyboards in store.

      Hope this helps! Let me know how you go Cip. :-)

      -Taz.

  7. Cip Casas says:

    Thank you so much for your interest,
    With all due respect for those who love GarageBand software, I have no interest at all in learning how to use it, however I am very interested in trying my keyboard with the build in piano in GarageBand to see if that works okay. I would therefore much appreciate if you could give me simple, fool proof, step by step , short cut instructions for quickly setting up GarageBand to try the piano with the keyboard. I mean something like (1. click x to start it, 2. click y and then z to set up piano) and so on.

  8. Mark says:

    I’d be interested in hearing more about your recommendations for an external monitor. Also, I’m fairly new to music production. Do you think a 13″ Macbook Pro would provide enough processing power for a basic user?

    • Stoney says:

      It’s enough for a basic user :) It’s even enough for pro users. I would say you can run about 50+ tracks with effects on the i5, and that might be a conservative estimate.

    • Tasman Hayes says:

      Mark,

      Thanks for your question!

      I agree with Stoney – a new MacBook Pro 13 inch model will have more than enough power for music production – way beyond a basic user.

      If you were scoring complex music with many sampled or synthesized instruments and lots of processor heavy effects, like convolution reverb, and you were doing this day-in, day-out, you might want a 15 or 17 inch Mac Pro with quad core processors. You’d also want 8GB of RAM and an SSD. That’s not for a “basic user”. That’s for a pro or a serious enthusiast. You’ll be fine with a dual core 13″ Mac Pro.

      A far tips for picking a monitor for making music, there’s a few things to consider, so I’ll write you an article. I’ll post another comment when the article’s written. :-)

      Cheers,
      -Taz.

    • Tasman Hayes says:

      Mark, I’ve written up my tips for buying a MacBook Air or Pro external display, including the full HD screen I use – right now, it’s selling for $152. Bargain! :-)

  9. Janet says:

    Wow
    Your article is so helpful to choose Macbook pro
    Actually i want to use Ableton to make music then use Protools to mix and master
    Maybe i am gonna use effects such as some waves n plugins.

    Can you recommend what macbook pro is good for me?
    Actually i am a girl so i want to buy 13inch pro but i am not sure it’s gonna work well
    If you give me some tips, that would be thankful :)

    • Tasman Hayes says:

      Hi Janet!

      I just rewrote a lot of the article, so there’s lots of new information.

      I’d check whether Ableton & Protools are working properly on Lion – the updates on the article tell you how to Google to check it.

      The MacBook Pro 13″ should be fine for you. You might find the screen a little cramped, so you might want an external monitor when you’re working on complex projects (lots of tracks, virtual instruments and effects).

      You can also consider the MacBook Air 13″. It’s smaller, thinner and lighter than the MacBook Pro, if you’re happy to plug in an external DVD drive when you need it, and you don’t need a Firewire port. It also has fast flash storage, instead of a hard disk – it’ll probably be big enough for you unless you have lots & lots of music, sample & instrument libraries, and projects.

      I’d reread the article, as there’s details to consider. Like some people are saying the MacBook Air fan comes on too easily.

      The “safe” option is a MacBook Pro 15 inch.

      Hope this helps! Let me know if you’ve got more questions.

      -Taz.

  10. Rose says:

    Hi I’m new to this I want to make music. Using logic studio and pro tools with a Yamaha motif xs7 keyboard. Which Mac would be best for me. Sorry I’m late

  11. Tim says:

    Any of the Macbook Pro models will perform quite well in terms of music production. I have a pro audio studio which is running entirely off a 2011 unibody MBP. Make sure the model you purchase is quad core, with at least 4gb of ram. 8gb optimally, as many of the DAW softwares are both space and processor intense. I recommend going for the 4gb model and having a computer geek friend upgrade to 8 (or you can wander over to youtube and pull up some videos on how to do it yourself). On most of the current MBP models there is L6 cache, which also helps. I have been able to produce 20-30 track songs laden with effects, while only reaching half processor performance. Logic is an AMAZING DAW. Ableton Live and ProTools are as well, but I’m not sure of their compatibility with OS Lion. I know for a fact that Logic, Reason, Record and Reaper work on Lion, because I use all of them currently. I had difficulty getting ProTools 9 working on Lion, but I know that PT 10 is out now, so maybe they’ve adapted.

  12. thorsten says:

    Hi, thanks for the article. I’m just about to get myself a new macbook pro 13″ as a portable music production studio. As I plan to work with an additional monitor I hope the small screen will be OK for being on the road.
    I’ve noticed that the new macbook pro hasn’t got a firewire input. Wheras most of the current audio interfaces work with firewire. Is that a problem? Should I maybe wait a bit until the audio interface industry catches up with the latest mac technology or can I connect most audio interfaces with the new mac via the USB ports? Thanks in advance

    • Tasman Hayes says:

      Thorsten,

      The tech specs for the current MacBook Pro 13 inch, 15 inch and 17 inch models say they all have a Firewire 800 connector.

      I have a 15 inch MacBook Pro – the last model – and it has a Firewire 800 port (that’s IEEE 1394b).

      The Firewire 800 connector looks completely different from Firewire 400 (or IEEE 1394). FW800 is bigger and rectangular. The Firewire 800 connector uses 9 pins, whereas Firewire 400 uses 6 pins.

      Firewire800 is compatible with Firewire400. You just need a Firewire 800 to 400 adaptor or cable. I use an adaptor to go between my MacBook Pro and a FW400 interface, and it’s works great.

      If you like Thorsten, I can drop by the AppleStore today to physically verify the current MBP models still have a Firewire port. Let me know! :-)

      Hope this helps,
      -Taz.

      • Thorsten says:

        Thanks for the reply Taz. I made a mistake and mixed the MBP up with the airbook technicals. I think the MBP 13″ has firewire. If you would pop into the local store to verify that’d be really nice. I’ll be checking back here. Thanks again, T

      • Tasman Hayes says:

        Thorsten,

        I’ve physically verified that all the current MacBook Pro models (13 inch, 15 inch, 17 inch) have a Firewire 800 port.

        I even took photos! :-)

        -Taz.

        • Thorsten says:

          Hello Taz, I finally got myself a new macbook 15″ today. I love it, but my first impression is that it is quite loud. Even when I don’t do anything. A constant light hum from the HD ( I guess). Someone I know has a 1 year old 13″ MB and that is totally silent in comparison.
          It’s not VERY loud but even a little noise can be a problem when recording vocals, because it his adding up when using many tracks, you know. Any suggestions? Should I bring it back or shall I just get used to it? Is it a normal thing with the noise because the machine is pretty powerful, consequently it makes more noise? kind regards, Thorsten

  13. Morten says:

    Great review – just what I needed. Keep up the good work

  14. Sarah says:

    Heyyyy :) i have the 13 inch macbook pro, i play acoustic and electric guitar and sing aswell, when i go to record i simply use the macbook pro microphone and either play guitar and sing together or record each seperately. i use a Goodmans ACC2011 microphone which is pretty old and uses a jack lead ( i think thats the name ) which you cant detach from the microphone and im guessing its just a karaoke one.. i use it with a ALBA karaoke machine haha and i plug my guitar into a big good amp ive got using a jack lead? (peavey). im wanting to make my sound quality a lot better but dont know where to start, i also use garageband to put it all together. i was thinking a new microphone, a pop screen thing and a interface? but im not sure which to get and what will be compatible with what ive already got. im only 16 and the music is only for home use which will be uploaded to souncloud or something so its nothing major.. yet 😛 and as im only young i really seriously need it to be affordable as i have hardly any money haha! if you helped i would seriously appreciate it as ive been searching the web for ages trying to find help :) thanks

  15. Sarah says:

    oh sorry i also use a yamaha PSR-262 sometimes to record keyboard and singing or just a keyboard part.. so any leads needed for that would be helpful :) thanks

  16. Tom says:

    Hi; I have searched lots on the internet for info to get my son a computer for music production and would like to say this is the best info by far; it is easy to read plain english; lots of others go into so much tech talk that if you actually understood what they are writing you would have enough knowledge that you would not need their help; thanks a lot looks like pro 15 with i5 or i7 4gb; buying secondhand so probably won’t get 4 core. Only bit more help that would have been useful would have been comments on resolution and glossy screen or not

    • Tasman Hayes says:

      Hi Tom!

      Thanks for your positive feedback – much appreciated. :-)

      A used 15 inch MacBook Pro with a dual core i5 or i7 should be great for your son.

      You’re in luck: I’ve had MacBook Pro’s with both the standard resolution glossy screen (1440 x 900) and the high-resolution anti-glare screen (1680 x 1050), so I can compare them.

      The anti-glare screen is useful if the Mac will be used where there’s sunlight hitting the screen. For example using the MacBook Pro outside. Another example is using the Mac Pro in a room with a window with direct sunlight hitting the screen from behind. It’s also useful if you’re working with color, for example you’re a photographer or designer. I sometimes like to work outside, so for me, the anti-glare screen is good.

      The color range (gamut) of the anti-glare high resolution display is twice that of most other laptops. Would this provide any advantage for music? No.

      As for high resolution vs standard resolution, I have a surprising answer. When I first switched from a MacBook Pro with a standard resolution screen to a MacBook Pro with a high resolution screen, the increase in information I could have on screen was amazing. It has one third more pixels (36%). I’d look at my co-workers Macs with standard resolution screens, and they seemed like children’s toys the text was so big. Their screens just couldn’t hold the level of detail I’d quickly gotten used to. Months down the track, I’ve noticed that the text is so small, there’s a certain amount of effort just to take in the screen. I have to look hard; well not hard, but it’s not effortless. Yes, in certain apps (e.g. web browsers) I can make the text bigger, but in many places the software’s interface is fixed in pixels, and so text and buttons just get smaller with the high-res screen. Software developers almost certainly designed the software interface for screens with bigger pixels. The sense of work to read the screen is small by day, but pronounced at night. My eyes may be tired by this time, after already clocking eight hours on another monitor.

      If I could take back my choice to go with the high-res screen, I would have gone with the standard resolution screen, just to make everything easily readable. So despite the “more pixels is better for music production” maxim, in general I’d opt for the standard resolution glossy display. That’s the standard screen, which the vast majority of MacBook Pros out there have.

      If your son has excellent vision, and enjoys small text and high detail, and he’ll typically not be tired when using the Mac (i.e. not late at night), then the high-resolution screen could be good too.

      Hope this helps Tom!

      -Taz.

      • Tom says:

        Thank you very much that is such a great help; as I said I did look on the internet; and also went into an apple store; and they were not any where near as helpful or knowledgeable and their main interest seemed to be to sell me a one to one package even before me getting the computer which I was considering a refurb one from apple site which they couldn’t sell but said they could sell me the 1 to 1 pack. So thanks again

  17. Sarah says:

    ehhhh do i not get any help? :S

    • Tasman Hayes says:

      Sarah, help is coming. Specific questions are quick to answer. Your question is more broad, so needs a little thinking. :-) I’m driving 600 miles today, moving cities. I’m writing this at a roadhouse, so you know I care about your question and an answer is coming.

  18. Sarah says:

    okay :) i guess ill just wait, thanks 😀

  19. Mark says:

    Will a13 inch Macbook pro be able to support Cubase, Logic, Ableton, and Reason all in one laptop without any major problems? Great article by the way!

    • Tasman Hayes says:

      Mark, the 13 inch Mac Pro’s hardware is up to it, no problem. If you’re getting a new MBP 13″, I’d check the software vendors’ websites that all these music production software packages have been updated for Snow Leopard.

      I haven’t ever had all four of Cubase, Logic, Ableton & Reason installed on one Mac. Most likely it will be fine, but the only way to know for sure is to actually try it. Let me know how you go. :-)

  20. Hugh says:

    Hey Tasman, I’m currently looking at getting a new macbook Air for both university work and music production. Portability and form is important to me. Currently i’m on a PC with an Edirol UA-25 EX audio interface (USB), using Sonar, but I want to change to Logic pro 9 when I buy the mac. What would your recommendation be, considering I mainly use virtual instruments (Native Instruments Kontakt etc), recording real guitar and bass, and I write mainly progressive rock with 12-24 tracks.

    Should I wait for the 2012 MBA refresh?

    Your help would be greatly appreciated :)

    • Tasman Hayes says:

      Hugh, I’ve upgraded from a late-2010 MacBook Air 11-inch with a Core 2 Duo processor to a mid-2011 MacBook Air 11-inch with an i5 processor. My Presonus audio interface is Firewire, so I’m unlikely to do any serious music work on the Mac Air until a Thunderbolt-to-Firewire adapter ships (it’s in the works). I’ve used the Core 2 Duo MacBook Air with a heavy 24-bit sampled piano (Galaxy Steinway) in Kontakt 4, and that’s worked well. The i5 obviously has a lot more CPU power. I have yet to hear the fan go on my i5 model. My concern would be that with 20 tracks, the fan could run at high speed to cool the processor, and may be audible in your recording. If the guitar is electric, no problem. The 2012 MBA will very likely have cooler-running CPUs, but I suspect will be quite awhile yet. A 15 inch MacBook Air is likely to be released first. Aside from possible fan noise, the other consideration is whether your Edirol UA-25 EX audio interface will work with Mac OS X 10.7 Lion. I’ve checked Roland’s website, and they supply drivers for download for Leopard (OS X 10.5) and Snow Leopard (OS X 10.6). Perhaps there’s no driver available, or perhaps the driver has been integrated into Lion. If you take your audio interface into a Mac store, you can just plug it in and check Apple menu > System Preferences… > Sound to see if the interface shows up in the list.

      • Hugh says:

        Thanks Tasman, I really appreciate your response. So do you think I should buy a top spec 13 inch, or wait for the refresh? Considering, i’ll be using this, with an external monitor, as my main recording tool. Cheers

  21. Steffen says:

    Great “review” Tasman!
    I am considering buying the Macbook air 13″ for a studio on the goo, with Cubase 6.
    Is Cubase simmilar to Logic, ableton reason ect when it comes down to performance?
    …One issue though…I need a usb port for my dongle, but there is just one usb one the Air version. Is it possible to use a splitter of some sort?

    • Tasman Hayes says:

      Thanks Steffen! :-)

      Unless you’re assembling very complex music, the performance difference between these music software packages is a secondary consideration. It’s more about which software best supports your creative process.

      The MacBook Air has two USB ports, one on each side, so there’s a place for your dongle. :-)

  22. John says:

    I am about to buy either a 13″ or 15″ MBP. I will be using ProTools, Cubase, and probably Logic too. My pieces are heavily orchestrated. I am a bit new to the whole thing in that I have been writing most of my stuff internally on the ASR10 and SD1 (Ensoniq) but want to be able to do more. I am concerned the the 13′ does not have an audio input. Should I go with the 15″ to be safe and give room to grow? or will the 13″ fit my needs?
    thanks ahead of time

    • Tasman Hayes says:

      John, for quality music work, we typically don’t use the built-in audio jack. We use an external audio interface for lower noise, better fidelity, TRS and XLR inputs, higher sample rates and bit depth (e.g. 96kHz 24 bit), multiple channels and, if we’re lucky, perhaps more warmth. Both the 13 inch and 15 inch MacBook Pro have both USB and Firewire 800 ports, so you’d have no problems connecting an audio interface to either. Since your pieces are heavily orchestrated, I would go for the 15 inch MacBook Pro with a quad core processor. Having more processor cores will let you load up on tracks, effects, and instruments. The 15 inch screen will also give you more screen real estate for your projects. If you have sharp eyes, I’d consider getting the high resolution screen option, so you can fit more tracks and virtual instruments on screen. If you’ll make heavy use of sampled instruments consider 8GB of RAM. Flash storage makes loading sampled instruments fast, but is expensive, and gives you less storage to work with. Let me know if you have other questions. :-)

      • John says:

        Thank you
        After a ton of research on the internet and on the phone, I was about to go with the 15″ and 8gig ram
        Your advise has done a great deal to make me feel less anxious about spending the money. You have been a great help

        • Tasman Hayes says:

          John, I’m glad to have helped! :-) It would be great to hear how moving to Mac supports you to develop your music further. If it suits, please post a link to your music (e.g. on SoundCloud) when you’re ready. I want to hear! :-)

  23. Ingrid says:

    Hi,
    Great article. I chose the 13inch for portability and have just brought it home. I am planning on purchasing an interface in the near future, but am keen to hook up my electric guitar right now to play around with garage band. The limitation of the 13inch is the single audio/mic, in/out. How can I play the guitar and hear at the same time without the need for an interface?? Is there a way to feed the output audio through the computer inbuilt speaker so I can plug the electric in the input??
    Cheers,
    Ingrid.

  24. EssEtch says:

    Tasman,

    Thanks for all the information. Yours is the most direct, lucid, timely and careful content on the subject I have come across on the internet. Please keep this up in the name of good karma. It will come around!

    A couple of questions:
    I have a MacBook Pro 15″ (Mid 2010) with Intel i5-2.4GHz, 4GB RAM, and 320GB HD. Will I be terribly constricted if I run Logic Studio 9?

    At the moment I am rather pinned down on cash, but need to get hold on a bigger project that is coming my way . My goal is to move to Mac Pro as soon as cashflow allows.

    I shall be recording MIDI with a Yamaha MOX-6; a single channel of audio; will perhaps work with around 20 tracks, and run soft synths/samples/loops through Logic. I might need to use some bits from Native Instruments.

    I realize that I will need an external drive for more storage, that I will buy. But as far as workflow is concerned, I have read about “running the samples and plugins from a separate drive”. How does that go?

    Thanks again for your help.

  25. Rice says:

    Hi Taz

    Good advice here, thanks for taking the time to draft.

    I am about to purchase a Macbook pro -15 inch for music production and live performance. I will be using ableton live suite 8, with full sample library and have a large sample library of my own also. In addition to a large collection of digital music. Live performace will be using ableton and akai apc40. I’m currently researching a suitable firewire audio interface.

    I would be very grateful to hear your views on the following options and would welcome your comments on any other considerations prior to purchasing?

    Option 1:
    Specifications
    • 2.4GHz Quad-core Intel Core i7
    • 4GB 1333MHz DDR3 SDRAM — 2x2GB
    • 750GB Serial ATA Drive @ 5400 rpm
    • SuperDrive 8x (DVD±R DL/DVD±RW/CD-RW)
    • MacBook Pro 15-inch Glossy Widescreen Display
    • Backlit Keyboard (British) & User’s Guide (English)
    £1,849.00 incl. VAT

    Option 2:
    Specifications
    • 2.5GHz Quad-core Intel Core i7
    • 8GB 1333MHz DDR3 SDRAM — 2x4GB
    • 750GB Serial ATA Drive @ 7200 rpm
    • SuperDrive 8x (DVD±R DL/DVD±RW/CD-RW)
    • MacBook Pro 15-inch Hi-Res Antiglare Widescreen Display
    • Backlit Keyboard (British) & User’s Guide (English)
    £2,358.98 incl. VAT

    Option 3:
    Specifications
    • 2.5GHz Quad-core Intel Core i7
    • 8GB 1333MHz DDR3 SDRAM — 2x4GB
    • 512GB Solid State Drive
    • SuperDrive 8x (DVD±R DL/DVD±RW/CD-RW)
    • MacBook Pro 15-inch Hi-Res Antiglare Widescreen Display
    • Backlit Keyboard (British) & User’s Guide (English)
    £3,198.98 incl. VAT

    Regards

  26. Newton Cardoso says:

    I´ve got a lot of problems with Macbook Pro 13 (late 2011 – i5) running firewire interfaces. Both Digi003 and M-Audio 410 had big problems in Lion (10.7.2) or Windows 7 (via bootcamp). It seems there´s some kind of bug about firewire audio interfaces and cpu overheat (google it). Anybody else got this sort of problem? Thank you.

  27. Mitch says:

    Hi Tasman,

    Firstly I’d like to thank you for all the effort you have put into this website. Your information has been pivitol in a lot of the decisions I have made over the past month in deciding which way to go. Great work!

    Now to the question. I have ‘acquired’ a 13 inch air. Core 2 duo processor 1.86GHz 2GB RAM 256GB SSD. From reading your articles this is pre july 2011. If I wish to keep this Air and load my DAW, (ableton, or cubase) and what not, my investment will be $AU1000. I look to purchase monitor speakers and an audio interface in the long run to set up my home studio. I look to produce electronic music using digital instruments to start, as I am an absolute beginner. (no MIDI)

    Is this machine suitable for a beginner user such as myself?

    I have read this article over many times, and had decided to purchase a Macbook Pro 15″, however, I have been offered this 8 month old Air, which has barely been used, at a fraction of the cost.

    Any advice would be fantastic!

    Thanks again,

    Mitch

  28. ibot says:

    Hi Tasman,

    I’d like to echo a lot of the sentiments expressed here…I’m about to make the switch from PC to mac (a brave step – I found it hard enough to switch from Atari!) and so far, this is the most genuinely informative thread I have come across, especially with regard to using an air to produce music.

    I have suspected that the people slamming airs as underpowered for music production are talking it up to justify how much they have spent on their systems…or to appear to be talented and important enough to need 50 tracks of direct hard disk sampling with 10 processor intensive effects on each for their next concept album or Hollywood film score. Maybe I’m just cynical!

    My wishlist:

    Something that could handle as many as 16 wav (guess that’s .aiff now!) tracks, 16 more midi, with 4 or 5 effects on each though ordinarily I imagine I’d only be using a quarter to half of this. I currently use soundforge and cubase with kontakt on a 4 year old old dell xps1510 and m-audio fw1814. That works OK so I’m pretty sure any new macbook could handle it.

    Balanced xlr ins and outs and decent preamps.

    ultra portability.

    I’m thinking a 13″ 128gb air with an apogee duet 2 card using logic.
    Would this be a suitable setup for my needs?
    What are good alternatives to Sony Soundforge and Kontakt or Giga on the mac?
    I’ve not used a solid state drive but am currently happy with sata 7200…is it a safe switch?

    Any help from anyone appreciated…

  29. Eric says:

    If you are to get a 15′ Macbook Pro please for the love of god upgrade the RAM in it. If not it will crash ever 30 minutes or so with like 15 tracks playing simultaneously, (noting that i use a sampler and extra software). For your sake and your enjoyment, instal at least 8gb of RAM… PLEASE!

  30. Brannan New says:

    Hi, I currently have a MacBook Pro 13″ running OSX 7.4 with 4GB ram and MainStage 2. At the moment, I’m using an amp to plug my guitar into it, but in the near future I wish to also plug in a small midi keyboard (Akai Synthstation 25) and a midi footpedal (Behringer FCB1010) into it too. Should I upgrade any of the hardware, or is 4GB good enough?

  31. Geronimo says:

    Hello,
    English its not my first lenguage so i hope you understand :)
    I’ve been searching and searching for days and this article is the best of the best, but there’s something that I don’t get, everybody says that for music the more powerfull your processor is, the better, but with modern processors we’ve got cores, clock speed, cache, hyper thread (and intel offers LOTS of combinations)
    So what does each one do?
    More cores mean more tracks and more vst’s right? But what does the clock speed does here? I mean let’s say for example a quad core can handle 20 tracks (I know it can handle more, just for the example) but if the clock speed per core is 1.2 Ghz it means that when you hit play your project won’t play smoothly or just more time loading each vst you drag to the project or what?
    So I guess what I want to know is what advantage you get with more cores, or more clock speed or more cache (haven’t found anything about cache in the Internet, but an intel processor that has the same things except 2 extra MB of cache costs 150 extra dollars, so I supposed it means something)
    I won’t record anything, I pretend to make house music in a professional level (lots of effects and synths)
    I hope you can help me
    Thanks a lot

    • Tasman Hayes says:

      Geronimo,

      I haven’t looked at music benchmark comparing processors in years. For many people, it’s become irrelevant – nearly all modern computers have plenty of power for music production.

      Roughly, every core you have is a worker, and the clock speed is how fast the workers work.

      Music production is typically easy to run across several cores, because the many tracks naturally allow the work to be run in parallel.

      The way processors are priced, the base clock speed is usually very affordable, and then adding clock speed costs a lot, without getting a proportional increase in performance.

      For music production, I’d tend to go more cores, over screaming fast CPUs – you’ll tend to get more tracks / virtual instruments / effects for your money this way.

      As for CPU cache, it can help certain programs a lot, e.g. video encoding. Whether it helps your particular VSTs significantly is impossible to know without benchmarking. Given the $150 price hike for a big cache, I’d tend to spend your money on more cores or faster processors which will definitely help you, rather than cache.

      Do not buy a 1.2 GHz processor! That is very slow. A good modern processor should be 2.4 GHz to 3 GHz. I’d get a good modern processor, e.g. an Intel i5 or i7. I’m not up to speed with AMD’s processor product line at present.

      If you want to have many effects & synths, I would go a quad core i5 or i7. AMD’s processors could be great too, I just haven’t had one in years.

      -Tas.

  32. pooia says:

    thank you very much for good article 😉

  33. Diego says:

    Hello,
    I really enjoyed the article, it was really helpful and thank you for doing this.

  34. Andy says:

    Hello,
    I really enjoyed your article, and thank you for sharing with us all your insight,however im not sure if you could help me with an issue im having. I currently upgraded my laptop (HP) to a new one (HP), and there seems to be some technical issue whenever I play a track. The sound of the speakers seems to be cut-off every 2-3 seconds by some sort of “tick-and-click” sound. Now, my older laptop, which was way worse in every spec than my new one, didnt have this kind of issue. Could it be that my new laptop projects this “tick-and-click” sounds due to the software beats by dr.dre installed in the computer? I;ve tried many computer geeks, and they cant find the solution to my problem.

    Thanks in advance,
    Andy

  35. Simon says:

    Hello!
    First and foremost, I, like all the others, I’d like to thank you for your very informative article. I’m thinking of making the “jump” and have just recently started with some music making. Since I’ve just started I’ve decided to start with using reason as my main program and I was wondering what your take on the new macbook pro retina is. I’m thinking of getting the “cheapest” option that is the one with the 8 gb of ram etc. Do you think any particular upgrade on hardware is a good investment or is that standard model fine? And what about the fact that there now is no FireWire port? A lot of questions, hope you find the time to answer them!

    Kind regards

    Simon

  36. Paul says:

    A very useful article thanks – I’m trying to choose between a dual core 13″ mbp and a quad core 15″. The 15″ will cost 50% more than the 13″ and your info has helped me to weigh up the pros and cons. As I’ll be mainly using an external screen, the screen size it not a high priority, the most important thing for me is being able to open large projects in Ableton, Pro Tools and Reason. I’m still not quite clear how much difference the number of cores will make. You say “the 13 inch has two CPU cores. The 15 and 17 inch models have four CPU cores. This means that a 15 inch or 17 inch can handle roughly twice as many tracks as the 13 inch” – is it really going to make that much difference? Do the programs really make such efficient use of the multiple cores?

    Thanks a lot
    Paul

  37. CLEMENT BENNY says:

    Hey Tasman, Thank you for a great forum and informative insights. So it is a MAC BOOK or AIR for running loops and playing LIVE ? Which MUSIC PRODUCTION SOFTWARE is pre-loaded on the MAC BOOK AIR.
    I would need and external SOUND CARD as well ? If I do not run more than 10 tracks the fan should not be too problematic ?

  38. pete says:

    Hey tasman,

    Thanks for the well written article really helps after reading so many reviews on the macbook pro and still not knowing which is the one for me. now at lest im clearer on what to get as ive been saving for a long time for this shiny piece of aluminum
    take care Pete

  39. steve says:

    Hello Tasman,

    This is a great article! Wow, awesome!

    I tend to know what I’ll need but just to make sure: I’m using Ableton Live and all 3 Spectrasonics Instruments (huge memory, about 120 Gb all together). I’d buy a Macbook Pro 15″ with 8GB of RAM and a SSD with 256 Gb.
    Would you choose something smaller than that?

    Greetings!
    Steve

  40. Rob Moitoza says:

    Hey Tasman,

    I just returned a Mac Book Pro with SSD because they didn’t have a firewire port or a DVD slot. They do have Thunderbolt, but to load software you have to buy an external drive. And to use Firewire, you need adapters. Now I’m totally confused. I mainly wanted it for Ableton Live, but thought it would be nice if I had the option to run my Digital Performer files. Am I asking the impossible? Am I better off with SSD or 7200 RPM drive? Not sure what the heck to buy at this point. I’m still using an old G4 with Performer and doing fine, but want to upgrade. I’m waiting for the new Mac Towers, but thought a MacBook Pro would be a good interim solution. Am I nuts?

  41. AWESOME article!!! Thank you for the detailed info – Helped TONS! :-) Happy New Year

  42. Ben says:

    I work with Ableton Live and Traktor Pro 2. I am currently using a 13 inch Macbook Air. As for traktor it gets the job done perfectly. I can’t complain. Its smooth as butter. When it comes down to the production side of things on Ableton Live it can get a little rough. The CPU spikes a lot especially when your working with MIDI clips. If your looking to be serious about production go with one of the Macbook Pros. I haven’t worked one yet but I’m sure it would do a lot better job then the Macbook Air. But, that being said, if you’re just looking to DJ then a Macbook Air is perfect because of its portability.

    -Ben

  43. Hi!
    I absolutely agree with everyone else here, GREAT! article Tasman. It sure helped me a lot now that I am moving into the area of music production and need a new MacBook (my late 2009 simply won´t cut it anymore…, Although I have been DJ´ing on this one for some time and it has served me nicely!!) Probably getting the MacBook Pro 13″ with the i5 Core (the 15″ has a nice big screen but is too heavy for me to bring along…)

    Hoping for more interesting and fun-to-read articles of yours,

    Best Regards,
    Felix Persson

  44. Lou says:

    Thank you so much! You’ve made my decision making a lot easier. I already have a presonus interface, cubase daw, and I just needed something to handle all of this in my home studio. I’ve recently purchased a 13″ MBP i5, 128GB SSD, with 8GB mem, and i’m using a 1TB external hard drive for storage. I can’t wait to set this up this week!

  45. Dylan says:

    Hi my name is Dylan, I rap and am just starting out for recording my raps but I need a laptop and I have read that the MacBook Pro might be better for music but I am just starting out so can you let me know which MacBook to get? The air or the Pro?? And what music software would you recommend for the laptop??

    Thanks

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