Back in the day, you had to head to a recording studio and pay through the nose to create a high-quality track.
Thankfully, music production has come a long way. Now, it’s easy to create and record songs using a computer, all from the comfort of your very own home.
When considering how to record music on a computer, you need two things: the right hardware and music production software. We’ll have comprehensive guides to the best recording software in the future — but before we dive into that, you need to have the right hardware first.
So what’s the best computer for recording music? Here, we cover the main considerations to keep in mind when shopping around, and take a look at some of the leading options out there today.
Also check out our other musician guides!
What to look for in a computer
While most modern devices can handle music production to some degree, the best computer for recording music at home will depend on your preferences, budget and music production needs.
To help you figure out what you need, here are three questions you should be asking.
Mac or PC?
We know, we know—this is one of the most divisive questions out there when considering how to make music on a computer. But it’s the most important starting point for any musician who wants to create tracks at home.
Macs are popular with recording studios and musicians, thanks to their powerful processing capabilities and the fact that macOS doesn’t crash often. Apple also has a powerful suite of DAWs, such as Garage Band, and it’s easy to send projects to your other Apple devices.
Because of this, many musicians automatically default to an iMac, MacBook Pro or MacBook Air for music production. However, there are still plenty of reasons to pick a PC.
PCs offer more customization options, are generally cheaper, and there are more products to choose from. They’re also great if you prefer the Windows operating system to Apple.
Desktop, laptop or tablet?
With the latest tech innovations, it’s possible to create music on a desktop, laptop and even some tablets.
Most of the pros still opt for desktops for music recording. That’s because they generally have more processing power, so they’re faster and able to handle heavier loads compared to a laptop.
You get more customization with a desktop. Even if you’re not building a PC for music production, it’s easy to add more RAM, ports or additional hard drive space. Desktops also don’t tend to overheat as much as laptops do, and they’re far less noisy.
However, if you plan to use your computer for music production and for gigs, laptops are probably your best bet. The portability of a laptop means you can record and edit music anywhere, at any time.
Finally, as tablet technology becomes more powerful, tools like iPads are emerging as an alternative to laptops for music production.
Although most DAWs won’t run on tablet OS’, developers are putting more klout into creating digital instrument and synthesizer apps. If you use a desktop but just want a portable device for light music production on the go, a tablet might be the right pick.
What specs do I need?
The main specs that matter are processing power and RAM.
The faster and newer the processor, the faster your computer gets things done, so get the best processor your money can buy. Most music production software asks a lot from your computer, so at the bare minimum aim for a quad-core processor, such as an Intel Core i5. However, if you can afford it or you’re serious about home music production, it’s worth investing in an i7.
RAM also makes a huge difference, particularly if your music production is heavy on VST instruments. Most software has a minimum requirement of 4GB RAM but recommend 8GB.
Other things you might want to look out for include:
Storage. Raw audio files are huge, so it’s worth getting a computer with at least 500GB of storage to save you from constantly transferring music to an external drive. Try to find a computer that offers some solid-state drive (SSD) storage as well as hard disk drive storage. SSDs are generally faster and more reliable.
Ports. Many laptops sacrifice ports for a slimmer design. At the very least, try to get a laptop with a couple of USB ports to support your audio interfaces.
DAW compatibility. While most DAWs work with the majority of computers, some are more demanding than others. For example, Pro Tools demands a whopping minimum 16GB of RAM (but recommends 32GB) and an i7 processor.
Now that we’ve covered all that, let’s take a look at some of the best computers for recording music.
Best desktop computers for recording music
If you’re a studio producer and you’re looking for a powerful Apple desktop computer, the iMac is without a doubt the best option out there.
The latest fully-specced 21.5 inch iMac (Retina 4K) is decked out with a 3.6Ghz 6-core 8th Generation i7 processor, 32GB of RAM and 1TB of storage. Meanwhile, the 27-inch iMac (Retina 5K) comes with a whopping 5.0Ghz 8-core 9th Gen i7 processor, 64GB of RAM and 3TB of storage.
With these powerful specs, you’ll be able to run your music production software alongside other programs without a hitch. On top of this, Apple’s Retina Display is just downright gorgeous and a nice-to-have.
iMacs are cheaper than MacBooks, but still have a hefty price tag attached: the 31.5 inch (Retina 4K) model starts at US$1,299.
If you’re after an affordable, robust desktop that will get the job done, the Dell Inspiron might be right for you.
This desktop tower packs in a powerful 9th Gen 8-core 4.7Ghz i7 processor along with 8GB RAM. The computer also houses a 128GB SSD and 1TB HDD, and all the ports your heart desires, including VGA, HDMI, audio jack, multi-card reader and line in/out mic ports.
Priced at US$893, the Dell Inspiron offers unbeatable value for money, especially when stacked up against the iMac. Plus, it’s got an average 3.9-star review on Amazon, so you know it’s reliable.
Apple Mac Mini
Want a customizable Apple desktop? Getting a Mac mini is basically like building a computer for music production. Although there’s an entry-level model, you can configure the processor, RAM and hard drive on Apple’s website.
Although the Mac mini offers a 3.6Ghz quad-core Intel i3 processor option, we’d recommend upgrading this to a 6-core Intel i7 processor if you want to run most DAWs smoothly.
When it comes to RAM, the options range from 8GB to 64GB, which is more than enough for your music production needs. Lastly, you can pick how much SSD space you want, from 128GB to a massive 2TB.
At US$799 for the entry model, investing in the cheapest Mac mini won’t break the bank. However, the customizations quickly add up. For example, each additional 8GB RAM costs US$200. The same goes for storage capacity, which costs US$200 to double.
Ranked among Amazon’s top 10 best sellers for desktops with an average 3.9-star rating, the Acer Aspire is another affordable tower for general music production.
The Aspire runs most DAWs smoothly with a 4.1Ghz 9th Generation Intel Core i5-9400 processor, 12GB RAM and 512GB SSD. It comes with a solid number of ports, including USB-C and regular USB, HDMI, and VGA ports.
Although it’s not the most powerful, it’s by far the most affordable. The Aspire is priced at US$520, so you’ll have plenty of budget left to invest in new interfaces or social media promotion for your tracks.
Best laptops for recording music
Like the iMac, the MacBook Pro is viewed as the go-to for musicians who want a laptop for music production. If you’re looking for sheer power and performance packed in a portable frame, the MacBook Pro is hard to beat.
Apple’s basic 2019 15-inch MacBook Pro has a 2.6Ghz 6-core Intel i7 processor, 16GB RAM and 256GB SSD. However, if you kit out your MacBook Pro with the best money can buy, you can upgrade to a 2.4Ghz 8-core i9 processor, 32GB RAM and a 4TB SSD, which is more than enough to run your DAW along with all your VST plug-ins for years to come.
MacBooks also boast amazing battery life, and easily run for a full 8 hours on a single charge.
The Macbook Pro is perfect if you want high-end performance and you’re willing to pay for it. The 15-inch MacBook Pro starts at US$2,399, but if you’re planning to upgrade it, be prepared to spend over the $3,000 mark.
As a gaming brand, Razer’s laptops are designed to run demanding programs on the go.
The entry-level Razer Blade has a 2.6Ghz 8th Generation 6-core Intel i7 processor, 16GB RAM, and 128GB SSD and 1TB HDD, putting it on par with the Dell Inspiron desktop. The Blade has plenty of battery juice, lasting up to 6 hours on a charge, and comes with a Thunderbolt 3, MiniDisplayPort and HDMI port. Plus, you can customize the keyboard backlight color for a personal touch.
Starting at US$1,599, the Blade has everything you need for home music production and comes in 30% cheaper than the MacBook Pro. It should come as no surprise that the laptop has an average 4-star rating on Amazon.
With 4.5 stars on Amazon, the HP Envy is a trusted laptop for music production.
This laptop features a gorgeous 17.3-inch screen, 1.8Ghz 8th-Gen 16GB Intel i7 processor, 16GB RAM and 512GB SSD, which is enough to run most DAWs without too much trouble. On top of this, the Envy comes with a touch screen and is just 14mm thick, making it easy to carry to and from gigs.
The HP Envy has slightly less processing power than the others out there, but makes up for this with their sound quality. This laptop comes fitted with B&O speakers, so your tracks will still sound great even if you’re without your headphones. Finally, the Envy’s battery has mid-range performance, lasting around 5 hours on a charge.
The HP Envy 17T starts at US$1,200 on Amazon.
Alienware M15 Gaming Laptop
Another gaming laptop, the Alienware M15 closely mirrors the Razer Blade in terms of specs, with a 2.1Ghz 8th-Gen 6-core Intel i7 processor, 16GB RAM and 512GB SSD. However, the plus with Alienware is that they’re notoriously customizable.
The current specs are more than enough to run most DAWs, but you can tinker with the laptop to expand the SSD and RAM. This means the laptop is essentially future-proof, even if more demanding music production software hits the market in the coming years.
The main differences between the Alienware M15 and the Razer Blade are the price and the battery life. Alienware’s M15 is significantly cheaper at US$1,193, but the battery life clocks in at less than 4 hours on a single charge.
Microsoft Surface Book 2
If you want a Windows laptop, who better to go with than the company that invented Windows? The 15-inch Surface Book 2 regularly features on lists of the best laptops for music production thanks to its great battery life and its incredible performance.
The 15-inch model packs enough power for even the most demanding music production software, such as Ableton. The entry model comes with a 4.2Ghz 8th-Gen quad-core i7 processor, 16GB RAM and 256GB SSD.
What sets the Surface Book 2 apart is its versatility. Detach the screen and use it as a tablet, use it as a laptop, fold it in two for ‘studio mode’, or flip it to view mode by detaching the screen, turning it around and re-attaching it. Battery life is also outstanding because the laptop actually houses two batteries (in the base and screen), and easily lasts a day on a charge.
The only catch is the price. The Surface Book 2 starts at US$1,800, making it almost as expensive as a MacBook Pro. However, rest assured you’re getting a good product: The Surface Book 2 has an average rating of 4 stars on Amazon.
Best tablets for recording music
Historically, tablets have never been viewed as a laptop replacement. It’s always been an add-on: You have your main desktop or laptop and a tablet. However, the new iPad Pro is set to change that.
With 11-inch and 12.9-inch options, the iPad Pro has a screen that’s comparable to a small laptop. It’s also lightning-fast, lightweight, and lasts up to 10 hours on a single charge — almost double that of the HP Envy.
However, you’re limited in the software you can use, as most DAWs aren’t compatible with tablets. But if you’re running GarageBand, don’t use too many extra VST plug-ins, and want the ultimate in portability, this might be a good solution.
Priced at US$799 for the 11-inch model, and US$999 for the 12.9-inch model, the iPad certainly isn’t the cheapest iPad option out there, but it certainly is the most powerful.
Surface Pro 6
The Surface Pro 6 is the best of both worlds and, with an average 4.2 stars out of 5 on Amazon, it’s clear users agree.
Sporting a 1.3Ghz 8th-Gen Intel i7 processor, 8GB RAM and 256GB SSD, the Surface Pro 6 has the specs of a laptop in a lightweight 1.7 pound tablet. This should be more than enough to run all your music production software on the go; however, if you need more power there’s also an option with 16GB RAM and 512GB (or 1TB) of storage.
The Surface Pro 6 has great battery life, with each charge lasting up to 13.5 hours. The tablet is also incredibly versatile: Just use the built-in kickstand along with Microsoft’s type cover to convert the Surface Pro 6 into a full-fledged laptop.
However, this portable power comes at a cost. The entry-level tablet costs US$1,069, which is already more than the iPad Pro. If you’re looking for the 16GB model with 1TB, be prepared to pay over US$2,000.
Wrapping it up
If you’re looking for a great computer for home music production, these are some of the top ones on the market today. However, keep in mind there’s no universal “best computer for musicians.”
Ultimately, the one that’s right for you will come down to what you’re looking for, how much you’re willing to spend, and the factors that matter most to you.