Let’s say you’re setting up a home recording studio. You’ve given it the acoustic treatment, and you have most of what you need–multi-track recording equipment, a multi-room audio interface, condenser microphones, open-back headphones and closed-back headphones, a digital audio workstation, and other essential high-resolution audio recording equipment, and pro tools to get your studio up and running.
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The one thing that is missing, however, is a decent home recording studio computer to pull it all together. And choosing the computer is one of the most important decisions you’ll have to make. This is also one of the things you’ll find people are really divided on.
We’re going to try to show you the pros and cons of all the different choices out there and tell you some of the important specs you need to consider before making up your mind. Let’s get started.
Is the Computer I Already Have Good Enough?
If you’re just setting up your studio, you’ll be happy to know that the computer you already have is probably enough to get you started. As long as it’s working properly, up to date, and doesn’t have too many other programs running on it.
This gives you time to figure out whether or not you really want to make a large monetary investment in music production. Plus, it gives you time to think about what you really want and need in your studio.
We’ll explore Mac vs. PC a bit later but if you already own a MacBook Pro, you might consider yourself to be a little ahead of the game. Why? Most Macs come with GarageBand software which is great for a beginner.
On the other hand, if you’re using a Windows operating system, don’t worry. You can find inexpensive and even some free software to get you started.
As you get more serious and gain more experience, you will eventually need to invest in a new computer. Ideally, you can get one that you can devote solely to recording and producing music.
Do I Need a Laptop or a Desktop?
That depends on what you want to be able to do with it. Something to keep in mind as we move forward is that there are no right and wrong choices. It’s really all about what will work best for you and what you can use to produce the best product.
That said, as Joe Stachowiak puts it, there are good and bad things about each. Laptops are portable which is great if you ever need to work off-site or in another studio. If you plan to record music at festivals or live shows, a laptop is the only way you’re going to be able to do it.
Desktops are good, too, because they sit in one place and have much less risk of damage or, worse, theft. You’ll get more memory and power upfront but upgrading them can mean opening them up and digging into the internal components. Not everyone is going to feel comfortable with that.
E-Home Recording Studio points out that most recording pros still use desktops even though laptops have become so popular everywhere else. There are a few reasons for that.
First of all, desktops are generally faster machines. They’ll be able to keep up with everything without any issues. They also have more ports which give you more options for routing or growing your setup.
In the end, the biggest factor to consider is portability. If you ever want your computer to leave your studio, go with a laptop. Because you can’t just toss your desktop in your bag and carry it around with you.
That said, if you want a faster machine that you plan to use exclusively in the studio, you can’t go wrong with a good desktop.
Do I Have to Buy a Mac?
No, you do not have to buy a MacBook Pro. A lot of people might tell you otherwise. This is one of the most hotly debated topics about this subject. The Mac vs. PC debate has been going on as long as there have been computers, and everyone has a preference.
The first piece of advice we have is to use what you’re comfortable with. If you’ve always used a Mac, stick with a Mac. If you’re a PC user through and through, stick with a PC. At the end of the day, it’s really about how you interact with the computer.
Remember, your computer is only a tool. It doesn’t make the music, you do. Don’t think you have to run out and buy a Mac to be successful. Use whatever works for you.
That said there are differences between the two. Let’s take a closer look.
Why a Mac?
If you’re looking for a good argument for using a Mac, Joe Gilder makes a lot of good points.
For one thing, Macs have a reputation for being very stable. They rarely crash and tend to run very smoothly. Why is that? Because all Macs are built with parts that came directly from Apple. They are the only company that makes them.
To see why that matters, let’s look at PCs. Think about how many different brands of PCs there are. You can even build one yourself if you had the technical know-how. You can’t bank on uniformity when PCs come from so many different factories.
Now, think about software. Software designed for a Mac will work on any Mac. Why? Because they’re all the same.
So, what about software that’s supposed to work on a dozen different PC brands and the one you build by yourself in your basement? There’s a lot less consistency between all those different systems which can cause a lot of problems with uniformity.
As Joe Gilder points out, most PCs are designed for office use, performing tasks like running spreadsheets, data entry, or company emails. Recording software is very demanding and there’s a chance you’ll need to do some serious upgrades with a PC.
So, even if Macs are more expensive, they won’t require as many upgrades. Your software will probably run smoother too, which will prevent any lost time.
Why a PC?
Reuben Chng makes a great argument as to why PCs are a better choice. One huge complaint people have about Macs is the lack of control. You have to do things the way Apple wants you to do them, and there’s not much you can do about it. That’s the downside of uniformity.
With a PC, you have a lot of control. As we mentioned before, you can actually build your own PC to the exact specifications you need. You can customize your PC in a way that you can’t even come close to with a Mac.
Of course, there’s the price factor, too. PCs are much less expensive than Macs. If you’re on a tight budget or need to buy additional equipment, PCs are much more budget-friendly.
So… seriously, Should I Get a Mac or PC?
We know, we know… we haven’t given you a straight answer. And, honestly, that’s because there isn’t one.
Joe Gilder puts it perfectly. If you put a Mac and a good PC built for recording next to each other, you probably wouldn’t see much difference in their performance. It may have taken different amounts of money and work to get them ready for recording, but once you’re there, they’re pretty equal.
So, how should you decide? One of the best things you can do it leave it to the software. By figuring out what kind of software you want to use, the decision could be made for you. Some of the best programs are only for Macs; some are only for PCs.
Alternatively, just go with what you’re familiar with. If you’ve never touched a Mac before, a PC is probably your best bet and vice versa.
What Specs Should I Look for in a Hard Drive?
Regardless of what computer you choose, there are some specs you should look for to make sure you get the best performance. Let’s take a look at the hard drive first.
Joe Stachowiak gives a great rundown of the various components that affect a hard drive’s performance.
The first thing to consider is rotational speed. This is the measurement of how quickly your hard drive actually rotates and is measured in rotations-per-minute (RPM). The faster the RPM, the faster information can be written and read from it.
So, what’s a good RPM for a computer in your studio?
5400 RPM is adequate for most of the projects you’ll do in your home studio. You’ll be able to run multiple things at once, which is great. But if you have more in your budget or if you plan on doing multiple large projects, you should consider something faster.
If you want your computer to be able to handle just about anything, get one that’s 7200 RPM. At that speed, any project will be within your computer’s capabilities.
Let’s go back to laptop versus desktop for a moment. RPM is also a good way to demonstrate the differences between them. 7200 RPM is a pretty standard speed for a desktop. In fact, you can find desktops that run at 7200+ RPM pretty easily.
On the other hand, 5400 RPM is considered a good hard drive speed for a laptop. You can find laptops with 7200 RPM, but they’re usually top-of-the-line models that are pretty expensive.
There’s another option to consider. According to Sound Training College, having a solid state drive (SSD) in your computer makes everything even faster. Why? Because they have no moving parts.
So, to recap, a standard laptop has enough speed to do most of what you’re going to want it to do. A desktop has more than enough speed to do just about anything.
Are there Other Options for Hard Drives?
Yes, you can always opt to use external hard drives. This is actually a really great option if you want to beef up your laptop.
In this instance, you’re not talking about getting an external hard drive for storage. You’re going to be reading and writing from them in real time. Make sure you get one that has a fast data-transfer protocol. Something like USB 1.1 isn’t going to be fast enough.
What about RAM?
According to Joe Stachowiak, you really want to have as much random access memory (RAM) as possible. RAM stores information about the programs that are currently being used. You should get a computer with at least 2 GB of RAM but if you can afford 4 GB, get 4 GB.
Make sure that you only get as much RAM as your computer can handle. For example, if your computer can only access 4GB of RAM at a time, anything more than that isn’t worth it. You won’t see any difference because your computer can only access what it was made to access.
What about the Processor?
Another thing to consider is the processor. Basically, there are two kinds: Dual-Core and Quad-Core. Dual-Core offers two separate cores of power; Quad-Core offers four.
Quad-Core obviously has more power. A Quad-Core processor will be more expensive than a Dual-Core, but the increased power is worth it. You’ll want a reliable system that’s going to be able to deliver. The more power, the better.
What’s the Best Fit
You might have come here looking for a definitive answer, but there really isn’t one when it comes to what kind of computer you should get for your home studio. Remember, you make the music. The right computer is the one that helps you do the best work.
That said, there is certainly a lot to consider when it comes to picking one. We hope that by giving you this information, we at least made it a little less confusing and provided you with the tools you need to make the right decision.