In this article, we'll take a look at some key factors to consider when selecting a computer for music production and home studio recording.
Music production and home studio recording have become increasingly popular in recent years, thanks to advancements in technology that have made it possible for musicians to record, edit and produce professional-quality music from the comfort of their own home.
However, choosing the right computer for music production and home studio recording can be a daunting task, given the myriad of options available in the market.
Minimum Recommended Specs
⚙️ CPU (Speed)
The processor is the heart of any computer, and it is responsible for executing all the commands and running all the applications being used. When it comes to music production and home studio recording, you'll want a processor that is fast and powerful enough to handle the demands of recording and editing music.
Look for a processor with at least 4 cores and a clock speed of 2.5GHz or higher. Intel Core i5 or i7 processors are great choices for music production and home studio recording. For Macs, any of the M1 or M2 chips will work well.
👾 GPU (Graphics)
Music production software is generally not GPU-intensive. However, if you plan on using your computer for other purposes such as heavy photo editing, video editing, or playing video games, then this can become an important consideration.
In most cases, the graphics card that comes with your computer will be more than capable of handling your DAW's GPU demand. The specs that will make the biggest impact are Memory (loading plugins) and Storage (storing files).
💽 RAM (Memory)
RAM, or random access memory, is where the computer stores the data that is currently being used by the processor.
When it comes to music production and home studio recording, you'll want plenty of RAM to ensure that your computer can handle multiple tracks and plugins without slowing down. A minimum of 8GB of RAM is recommended, but 16GB will be noticeably better.
💾 SSD (Storage)
When it comes to storage, there are two main options: hard disk drives (HDDs) and solid-state drives (SSDs). HDDs are slower but offer more storage capacity for the price, while SSDs are faster but more expensive.
For music production and home studio recording, we recommend using an SSD with at least 512GB for your operating system and applications, as well as a large HDD with at least 1TB for storing your music files.
Many composers, producers and engineers go the extra step of buying additional external storage and even back up their important files with cloud storage. This will free up space on your internal drives to ensure fast boot and load times for your software, while still providing ample safe storage space for your music.
Now that you know the minimum recommended computer specs and, the next step is knowing which additional features best fit you current and future home studio needs.
Additional Features to Consider
🖥 Screen Size
If you are a preforming artist or DJ, a smaller screen may be preferable as it give you more portability. If you are a producer or audio engineer who spends hours recording, editing, mixing and mastering audio files in your DAW, then a larger screen size will make a huge impact on your workflow.
For laptops screens, you would ideally want a screen size between 16-21" as it gives you ample room to navigate your DAW while still being a mobile solution. Keep in mind that you can always hook up additional monitors to your laptops or desktops via HDMI, giving you a screen for multiple windows and screen-views.
For desktops monitors, screen sizes between 21-34" with a 21:9 ratio are perfect for use with DAWs. The extra width offers the ability to fit more of your track editors in view, while also enabling you to place multiple applications next to each other and see them all at the same time.
🔋 Battery Life
This is only applicable to laptop computers, and less important for those who rarely plan to use their computers outside the studio. However, many people need to pull up their sessions on-the-go, whether it's for live performances or collaborating in other spaces. In these cases, having your laptop crash mid-session or mid-performance can be devastating.
For those who plan to use their laptops for music production on-the-go, we recommend choosing a computer with a battery life of at least 8-10 hour on one charge. Thankfully, the demands of music software on battery life is relatively light compared to other tasks such as streaming videos or playing games.
The last thing to consider when choosing a specific computer model is connectivity options. Some examples would be: headphone jack, types of USB ports, SD card slot, HDMI (# of external monitors that can be connected), and more.
Having a minimum of 3 USB or Thunderbolt ports is essential since you'll need to plug in an audio interface, and likely a MIDI controller and external drive as well. There larger your home studio gets, the more ports you'll need - luckily, there are many USB hubs on the market that can easily extend your connectivity options.
In the end, these additional specs all depend on what you personally need from your computer. It is much better to plan ahead, though, and invest in the features that you think you'll need down the line.
💻 Laptop or Desktop?
The key benefits of laptops are functionality and portability. Maybe you’re a preforming artist, a traveling DJ, or a film composer working remote. In these circumstances, a good laptop with the highest specs you can afford is going to allow you to bring your project sessions with you anywhere.
If you choose a laptop, features like screen size, connectivity and battery life also become important considerations as they can impact the price considerably.
The key benefits of desktops are upgradability and affordability. If you plan to do all of your music production tasks in your home studio, then a similarly priced desktop can offer higher customization options, more internal upgradeability, a longer lifespan, and more powerful specs.
If you choose a desktop, deciding between a Tower, Compact or an All-in-one (AIO) models becomes an important consideration as tower and compact models may not include a display/monitor.
Once you've decided between laptop or desktop, the final decision is choosing an Operating System (OS): The most common debate when buying a computer...
📀 Mac or Windows?
Windows can work great for music production, but it's hit or miss. Since there are so many different makes and models running Windows OS, it's just as easy to find a good computer as it is to stumble across a lousy one. Luckily, you now know the recommended specs and can narrow down your choices to one that fits your needs.
In addition to being more affordable, one big perk to opting for Windows is that you have the ability to upgrade internal specs over time. Mac computers don't offer as much flexibility for internal hardware upgrades, so if you're on a tight budget - starting with a computer running Windows may be the best option.
Mac, however, is hands-down the most popular OS among professional music producers. Compared to Windows, Mac hardware is optimized for audio production and Apple's M1 and M2 chips test extremely well against audio latency and CPU overloads. Although subjective, Mac software is arguably superior in its ease-of-use and compatibility with audio drivers and MIDI devices.
Apple computers also come pre-installed with Garageband, a free yet capable DAW for beginners; as well as the ability to upgrade to Logic Pro X, a popular and powerful DAW only compatible on MacOS.
All features considered, this decision usually comes down to either personal preference, budget constraints, or wether your DAW of choice is compatible with the OS you're considering.
💵 How Much Should I Budget?
Since your computer is the most integral part of your home recording studio, we recommend setting aside enough money to invest in a computer that not only meets the minimum recommended specs, but also meets the future needs of your home studio setup. This way you can focus on creating great music and not worrying about wether or not your computer will crash mid-session.
On the low-end, you can find computers for less than $1,000 with sufficient specs for those who are just getting started. On the other end, you can find computers that cost over $5,000 with incredibly high specs, giving you everything you'll ever need from a music computer. However, a more conservative budget between $1,500-$3,000 will give you a wide range of options that offer enough power, storage and speed to last for several years or more.
There is nothing worse than losing your music forever because your computer's hard drive crashes from old age. Invest in something you know you can count on.
✨ Choosing a Computer
As we've seen, desktops are typically more powerful than laptops but lack mobility. Macs are usually higher quality than PCs but lack upgradeability. Additionally, you need to find something that not only fits your budget but also meets your current and future needs.
Remember to choose a fast and powerful processor, plenty of RAM, and an SSD for your operating system and applications. Know which features meet your needs, and invest in a computer that will inspire you to get in and stay in your creative flow, even if it means saving up for a bit longer.
Choosing the right computer for music production and home studio recording can be a challenging task, but by considering the factors mentioned above, you can ensure that you choose a machine that can handle the demands of recording and editing music.
🏆 Our Top Recommendations
If you want help comparing top-rated computers that are in line with the specs recommended in this guide, check out our lists of recommended laptops and desktops for home music production.
Once you have your computer, the next step is choosing a Digital Audio Workstation (DAW). This is the software you'll be using to record, edit and produce all of your music. If you want to learn more about how to choose the right DAW for you, read our DAW guide below.