[UPDATED May 30th, 2023] If you work with Studio One, Cubase, Avid Pro Tools, Ableton Live, or other Digital Audio Workstations, and are not happy with your computer’s performance, you are probably wondering, “What is the best computer for music production?”
Table of Contents
We’re going to help you learn how to choose the best computer for music production.
The problem with off the shelf systems by big-box PC manufacturers
You’ve seen all the computer makers out there — you see their ads on Facebook, TV, and you’ve seen them in Best Buy. Aren’t all computers the same? Wouldn’t they run a Digital Audio Workstation, and be cheaper than a pro audio computer?
The answer is no. When shopping for the best computer for music production, it’s important to remember a few key points:
Off the shelf PCs from big-box PC makers are not built specifically for music production.
This means that they’re not tested with Digital Audio Workstations, and while software has gotten more advanced over the years, it’s also become more complex, leading to the need for better hardware to operate it. The average off the shelf PC doesn’t have the CPU power to run a Digital Audio Workstation with any more than a few plugins. They’re not always configured with more than one internal hard drive, and the drives that are used are often not fast enough to keep up with the needs of digital audio workstations.
Off the shelf PCs come loaded with bloatware and add-on applications you don’t need.
That “bonus” installation of Norton Antivirus is going to slow your computer down. In fact, we’ve seen many cases with off the shelf PCs where customers simply couldn’t use their PC for music production due to the amount of bloatware on the PC.
There’s no support.
Try calling a big box PC maker, and, should you be able to get in touch with a human being, ask them how their systems operate with Avid Pro Tools, and how they’d help you were you to run into a DAE (Digital Audio Engine) Error. Then, wait for the silence on the other side of the line. Big box PC makers do not support the software you install on your PC. Just like you don’t ask the car dealer to teach you how to drive, you can’t ask the PC maker to teach you how to use the software on your PC — unless you choose the right PC maker (we’ll get into that later).
But, I heard that Macs are the best computer for music production!
This is a common misconception, and it comes from years and years of advertising working to convince us all that an Apple computer is the only way to work in the creative arts.
Remember those “I’m a Mac, I’m a PC” commercials, that made PC users look like stuffy, boring people?
Put simply, this just isn’t true. PCs are used by Music Producers, Composers, Musicians, Engineers, and Creatives all over the world.
We’ve got some great testimonials by creatives who use PCs to make great things, check them out here.
While the PC that you choose is important, there is no reason that a PC cannot be used to create great things. When properly configured, you’ll get more out of PC than you’d ever get buying a computer from Apple.
What’s more, Apple computers are now crazy expensive, and don’t offer enough to back up their exorbitant pricing. $1000 for wheels for your Mac Pro? We’ll pass, thanks.
And finally, while Mac OS X is a great Operating System, it is far from the end-all-be-all of Operating Systems. In fact, plenty of situations arise with every new release of Mac OS X in which an upgrade of the OS completely hinders one’s ability to use audio production software on their computer.
This leads to frustration and time and work lost.
When configured properly, the Windows Operating System is an integral and solid part of the best computer for audio production.
We worked with Microsoft when Windows 10 was released, to author a whitepaper on how the operating system would work for audio production. No one else did that — not Dell, HP, or any of the other guys, but we did.
This is just another factor when choosing the best computer for music production.
What hardware do I need to look for when purchasing the best computer for music production?
There are various important factors when choosing the best computer for audio production.
The Central Processing Unit, or CPU, is of utmost importance when shopping for the best computer for audio production. Generally speaking, the most important factor in choosing a CPU is to get as much CPU as you can afford within your budget. You don’t want to plan to upgrade your CPU, so you should get the best that you can afford to get when you spec out your new system.
We’ve got a handy list of CPU benchmarks to help you choose your CPU, but CPU choice shouldn’t be based solely on benchmarks.
Your CPU choice should incorporate a solid mix of Cores (the number of virtual brains that are solving problems) vs. the Clock Speed (how quickly those brains solve problems) of the CPU.
Most systems you’ll find from big-box PC makers and stores will use slower, underpowered CPUs, that are great for mobile work, but will not hold up when trying to record audio or edit video. This is done to keep the cost of the system very low, which is fine for a system for doing everyday work, but not for recording, editing, mixing, composing, mastering, and creating audio.
You won’t get the best computer for music production by buying a cheap computer with a sub-par CPU. Do that, and you might as well have tossed your money in the trash.
RAM (Random Access Memory).
RAM has always been an important factor when choosing the best computer for audio production. RAM is important because it acts as a buffer between your hard drives and the content stored and being loaded from them, and your CPU.
Systems with too little physical RAM may run into situations where you are unable to load plugins, virtual instruments, and work with higher track counts in your projects. Most big-box PCs come with the bare-minimum amount of RAM, and are not easily upgradeable. You can easily upgrade the RAM in your PCAudioLabs Rok Box Pro Audio PC.
Hard Drives and Storage.
Most PCs are loaded with mechanical hard drives that have spinning parts. While these hard drives have been in used for many years (even decades), they are not optimal when choosing the best computer for audio production, specifically with respect to the Operating System hard drive, where your Windows Operating System resides.
If that drive is slow (drives with moving parts can move very slowly), you’ll have issues loading your Operating System, sample files, Digital Audio Workstation, and other important factors when producing music on a computer. This can lead to time and money lost.
This is why it is important to choose PC with fast storage, such as NVMe m.2 SSD (Solid State Disk) storage — but remember, not all off the shelf PCs (this means most) will NOT include fast SSD storage.
We’ve even authored an article on why it’s important to use SSDs (Solid State Disks) to store your samples and audio files. You can read it here.
There’s a lot of other missing factors.
Most off the shelf PCs aren’t going to have many PCIe slots, which means you can’t use your audio expansion PCIe cards (forget about using those Avid Pro Tools HDX Cards in an off-the-shelf PC). They will lack USB ports, and they may not properly support the Thunderbolt protocol, which means you won’t be using your awesome new Thunderbolt audio interface. You won’t be able to expand these off the shelf systems, and in many cases, upgrading them will cost you more than the system itself, or may void the warranty.
Bottom line: There’s a reason that Dell PC costs $300 — it uses the absolute bare minimum of components to keep the cost down.
That’s all well and fine for browsing the Internet, but when one needs to use a computer for real work, you’ll find yourself at a standstill.
Sub-par hardware cannot keep up with a pro audio workflow, so don’t trust cheap computers when you want to record your band, produce beats, edit video, or create on your computer.
Saving a few bucks isn’t worth it, if you can’t get any work done.
I’m just going to build my own computer for music production. That’s just fine, right?
Far be it from us to say that you cannot build your own PC, but contrary to popular belief on the Internet, it’s not as simple as choosing some parts off a website and buying them, then cobbling your PC together.
Watching videos on YouTube from “Professionals” who have built a computer or two doesn’t help you if you build your PC and it doesn’t run Avid Pro Tools, Steinberg Cubase, PreSonus Studio One, Ableton Live, or any of the other popular Digital Audio Workstations.
And if it doesn’t, what do you do?
You can’t call anyone for help with your PC. So, you’re back at square 1 again — jumping through hoops on the Internet, trying to find answers, and not making music.
You need to ask yourself a question — how important is your time? Do you want to make music, or do you want to try to be a PC builder?
If the answer is the former — and it should be — then you should look to a pro audio PC builder to get a system that’s proper configured and tested for audio production.
Once again, saving a few bucks doesn’t make sense, if you can’t get any work done.
If you want the best computer for music production, you need to consider your time, and not just money. They are synonymous.
So, how do I choose the best computer for music production?
Choosing the best computer for music production shouldn’t be as difficult as it sounds — which is why it’s best to work with a professional PC builder to get your PC built and configured for music production.
At PCAudioLabs, we build and configure our music production PCs with the best components, selected and tested for music production.
We back up our systems with the best support in the business, including pro audio training from OBEDIA, the leader in music software and hardware training.
If you have questions about how you should configure your system, we are here to help answer your questions.
We offer free lifetime phone and email tech support for all of our pro audio PCs — something even Apple doesn’t do — and we are here to help you get the most out of your computer.
We’re here to answer your questions, and help you get the best computer for music production.
Have you ever wanted to just make sure that you’re buying the right product, and spoke to someone on the phone, who put your worries at ease?
That’s what we do — and when you don’t have to worry about issues, you can produce with Peace of Mind, meaning that you’ll be making more music, instead of agonizing over why your PC doesn’t work for music production.
We hope you found this article on how to choose the best computer for music production useful. If you have questions or comments, please get in touch with us!