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Choosing A Music Production PC 101: It Can Be Confusing…

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Finding a music production PC these days can be a confusing affair. Today we will discuss which computer specs matter when it comes to recording at home, the EASY Way.


Music Production PC Specs: Why Is This So Confusing?

Back in the old days, it was all about tape machines. Recording music was a much less complicated process. But all of that changed 20 years ago, when digital recording took off.

But there was a problem from 2002 until 2015, a BIG problem. Software was catching up faster than computers could handle. This means you needed a seriously powerful computer system to run a DAW.

I was an early adopter of digital workstations in the studio. I have a ton of info on recording here at Electrikjam, including a course to start mastering your tracks at home. I have no choice but to stay current with technology, to keep you informed, and to keep my studio running.

I enjoy teaching studio tricks just as much as I enjoy giving guitar tips. Getting started with recording can be a daunting task and we have tons of resources here to get you started.

However, finding a good music production PC can be a speed bump in your learning process. I know this because my studio rig took its last few breaths last month.

I panicked. While I like computers and technology, it can be hard to stay up to date with the ever-changing “meta” when it comes to computer builds. With some research, I finally figured it out… almost a week later.

I had to make some quick decisions to get back up and running. The whole ordeal did not cost me a fortune, though. In fact, I got a great deal because I had an idea of what I needed.

If you are not tech-savvy, you might have difficulty finding the right fit. Some computer companies will overcharge you, or even outright SCAM you for a music production PC build!

Today, let’s go over the specs you should pay attention to, as well as the computers to avoid. This might be long list, so feel free to skip around. We are not tech gurus so most of this will be pretty basic.


Getting Started: Tech Terms

The hardest part of choosing a music production PC is learning what each part of the machine does in the equation. A studio computer will be the sum of a few important parts, not just one feature.

  • The CPU: This is the “brains” of the computer. This might be the most important part of your home recording setup. The Central Processing Unit decides how quickly your music production PC operates.
  • The GPU: The graphics processing unit matters, but only to a small extent. Reviewers might talk about a powerful GPU and its benefits, but this is usually concerning gaming.
  • RAM: RAM is a crucial part of your PC. This is the “short-term memory” for your PC. RAM is a temporary memory bank that keeps data easily accessible so the processor can quickly find it without having to go into long-term storage
  • Hard Drive/SSD: This is where your “stuff” is stored long-term. All of your music tracks will be stored here, along with project files and virtual instruments. Think of it as your virtual library of files.
  • IO/ Input & Output: Most music production PC builds will need an abundance of USB ports, card readers, and HDMI ports.

There are other parts to consider if you are building the computer yourself. But that is not our audience today. If you are designing your own computer, you probably know what this stuff does.

These metrics are what we need to pay attention to when buying a new computer for music production. I have described them here because these are the specs we are looking for in a new PC. But there are so many choices beyond these basics!


Laptop, Desktop, or Mini?

This topic can be divisive, to say the least. I have used all 3 options to make music, so it really depends on the user. Which type of music production PC suits your situation?

If you are traveling or have limited space, a laptop or Mini PC can be a good option. Laptops and Mini PCs use the same CPUs and designs, with mobility and low power in mind. Both are limited when it comes to upgrading or changing parts.

Laptops and the recent mini PC trend are great options for a music production PC. These use built-in graphics, which is a downer for gamers. But for music, only the raw power of the CPU matters.

A desktop takes up more space and uses more power, but offers more customization and the potential to upgrade later. A desktop is perfect if you have the space and no need to be mobile. As your studio needs expand, you can add more parts to a desktop.

A desktop can be upgraded for years. Maybe you bought a PC with 16Gb of RAM, but this is too slow to load your virtual instruments. It is easy to add more RAM to a desktop. Maybe you need more space for songs, and a desktop will be perfect for adding more storage.

Whichever option you pick, the components remain the same. You will have to decide on a GPU, RAM, and storage device that suits your needs. That being said, there are three different types of computer operating systems:

  • Windows PC
  • Mac/Apple
  • Linux

All three of these have different pros and cons. For music production, Apple and Windows reign supreme when it comes to program compatibility. Linux has a lot to offer, but not every DAW will be supported.


Mac: The Easy Route

Music Production PC

If you have the money, Mac products might be your best bet. The Mac Studio Edition is specifically designed for creators and it has all that you need to get started. Let’s talk pros:

Most music production software will work with Mac. In fact, Mac products have their own DAW called Logic Pro that is optimized for the machine. Apple seems like the easiest choice for musicians.

The M2 processor is a powerful GPU that can take on enormous projects with ease. Mac was the first company to embrace creators and even the base-level models can handle large projects.

Apple also has a great track record when it comes to reliability. This is not a product that is going to break easily.

The biggest pro is that Apple deals with recording latency differently than a Windows PC. Windows will need other drivers to help with recording latency, while Apple has everything built-in.

But there are also some cons when it comes to using a Mac. Let’s talk about the topics to consider if you choose to go with Apple:

  • Apple products are not meant to be upgraded. If you buy a Mac, you need to consider every spec to “future-proof” the machine. Once you purchase a Mac, whatever you choose is not changed easily.
  • Macs are expensive comparatively. Apple charges high prices for storage and RAM, sometimes up to 100% more than a Windows machine.
  • Apple has its own ecosystem, meaning some DAWs and other components will not always work with a MAC.

From here on out, we will be talking about PCs only. If you have the cash, Apple is a great option. Just understand that the price of entry can be high compared to computers that are just as powerful.

If you are on a budget, then keep scrolling. If you can afford $2000 and up, then go with Apple. I would recommend getting some external storage for the Mac (we will talk about that later).


The CPU: Options Galore

Music Production PC

The Central Processing Unit is the main component of your music production PC. This is the brains of the whole operation, and the other parts of your computer will rely on it the most.

There are several companies out there and the naming conventions are worse than Ibanez Guitars in my opinion. Right now, there are two main players in the CPU world: Intel and AMD.

You have probably seen an Intel sticker on a computer before. Intel used to be the top choice for anyone looking for a music production PC. Intel is still a good choice, depending on the model you choose.

AMD or Ryzen is a relatively new option when it comes to music production. AMD has surpassed many of the Intel benchmarks with the Ryzen Series processors. Ryzen is also a great choice for a CPU.

You should avoid any older CPUs like Celeron. The model names can be confusing, so a good practice is to check them when shopping for your computer. You can use Google to see when the GPU was made.

If the GPU is older, it might still be a viable option depending on the power it outputs. here are some specs that you want to look at when it comes to the GPU:

  • Single-Core Performance: Most processors are multi-core these days, but music production software often uses a single-core for music playback. DAWs rely on single-core performance.
  • Multi-Core Performance: This is also important since plugins and VSTs will take advantage of every core in your system. It is recommended to have at least 4 cores for music production.
  • Clock Speed: You want a baseline of at least 2.0 GHz. This speed changes when under load, giving you two numbers to examine. So it is common to see two numbers; the base speed and the maximum speed. My CPU for example is 3.0 GHz up to 4.7 GHz.
  • Threads: Threads are sequences of instructions given to the CPU, and threading techniques like multithreading and hyperthreading can improve performance. A higher thread count means less stress when multitasking.

This gives you a ton of options when it comes to CPU power. The most expensive option is not always the best. Some CPUs work better in multi-core, while others focus on single-core performance.

Budget Workhorses:

  • Intel: Core i5 and i7 series are great options. Make sure they are a recent generation and don’t be afraid to compare the models in forums or online searches. The “generation” is usually mentioned in the description, as of 2024 we are on the 14th generation.
  • AMD Ryzen: These use a more traditional numbering system, so you know what you are getting. The 5000 series is a great budget option, while the 6000 series and above have plenty of power. The “generation” is usually included in the name. For example: Ryzen 7 5800, the generation is 7 in the “5000 Series”. As of 2024, we are on the 9th generation.

You do not need to spend a fortune on a music production PC with the latest processor. I am using a Ryzen 5000 series from the 7th gen. It handles more than I can throw at it, despite it being two years old.

So choosing the right computer for your needs can be a little complex, but most CPUs made in the last two years are going to handle basic DAW functions.


Benchmarks: Do They Matter?

If you have started researching for a good music production PC, then you have definitely seen benchmarks. These are numbers that show just how much power a CPU has under a full load.

I do not find benchmarks to be a good way to judge a PC’s performance. These are stress tests that do not apply to real-world applications. Are you ever going to max out your computer while recording a simple riff idea? That isn’t very likely.

Take benchmarks with a grain of salt. They may be useful to see if the single-core performance is good. You want to look for a CPU that scores over a thousand for single-core performance, just to be safe.


RAM: The Bottleneck

So let’s say you have found the perfect PC for your needs. The CPU seems to have tons of power, so you have chosen either Intel or Ryzen. But what about the RAM?

There are two types of RAM as of 2024: DDR4 and DDR5. The higher number means that it is more efficient, but DDR4 is no slouch when it comes to multitasking.

RAM can be very confusing at first, so I will try to make it easy when choosing the options for your machine:

  • 8 GB of RAM: This is the bare minimum to operate a modern computer. This will not be good for multitrack playback.
  • 16 GB of RAM: This is a great starting point for most music production PC builds. This allows plenty of tracks to play back at the same time. If you use virtual instruments or amp sims, this could be an ideal setup.
  • 32 GB of RAM: This is the sweet spot for RAM. If you are running virtual instruments like drums and bass, or MIDI instruments, this amount of RAM will balance well without bottlenecking the CPU.
  • 64 GB of RAM: This may seem like overkill for some users, but I find that this allows you to have multiple MIDI instruments opened at once. You will not run into any problems with large projects with multiple tracks.

You can go even higher, but I would test how your system works with 16 or 32 GB of RAM. Having more RAM may be pointless if your workload never reaches the need for that much power!

I have seen some colleagues upgrade to 64 GB of RAM, and when I opened their Task Manager program, the total amount of RAM their DAW projects were using reached 29 GB. So the upgrade was overkill.


Storage: The Most Important Part

Most storage options are going to be SSD these days (Solid State Drives). These are much faster than the older disk systems. But how much do you need for a music production PC?

I think that 1 TB is a good place to start. You can store your operating system, DAW, Instruments, and plugins on this drive. However, I would not store your projects on the same drive.

Most computers, even Mini PCs, have the option for two hard drives. This is an ideal situation. I like to store all of my tracks on a separate drive, usually 2 TB since music files can take up a large amount of space on your drive.


Back-Up EVERYTHING

Music Production PC

Now that you have a working music production PC and you have probably started creating projects, it is time to learn how to back up your work. This can be a fatal mistake if you skip this step.

External SSDs are a good option, and they are cheap as well! If you can afford two, then buy them. A good rule of thumb is to have your precious projects in at least 3 places.

  • Your Computer: This is where you created the project.
  • Your Secondary Hard Drive: It can be easy to clutter up your main drive, this is why I suggested having a second drive.
  • A Backup SSD: External drives are the easiest way to do this. They do not have to be top-of-the-line, super-fast drives. They just need to store your tracks and finished songs.

I have a drive that contains tracks from 20 years ago! These tracks have been migrated from older forms of storage over the years. I almost always back up my work.

Hard drives will almost always fail at the worst time. Make sure that you back up your work regularly. If a hard drive fails, it can cost hundreds of dollars to retrieve your lost data!

In some cases, your hard drive can be in a state where you cannot recover your work. So always have a good backup in more than one place. Never rely on a single drive to store your projects.


What About Gaming PCs?

These can be a good option if you find a great deal on a gaming PC. The only problem is that you are usually paying for a high-end graphics card that you do not need.

Sometimes you can find these for a great deal, and they usually have the power you need from a music production PC. But be wary of paying for a graphics card and RGB lights that look fancy.

Unfortunately, most studio PCs are boring when it comes to aesthetics. You will probably get a plain case with functional fans. There are some nice-looking PC cases for studios, but we are usually “function over fashion” when it comes to a music production PC.

Be wary of any “refurbished” gaming systems. These are usually “dressed up” office computers that look flashy but perform badly. You do not need RGB fans and flashy equipment to record.


Peripherals: Tips To Get Started

Music production Pc

We have a ton of articles to get you started with the hardware you need for recording at home. Some of these articles and sources are older, but these remain a great option to get started.

Once you get the hang of recording at home, we have more advanced guides that can get you professional results at home. Most of the tools we teach you to use are free and easy to understand.


Wrapping Up…

This guide has been pretty loose, and I wanted to keep it simple. Finding a good music production PC is easier now than ever. More powerful machines are released every few months.

Just a few years ago, a high-end PC was needed to run the newer plugins and amp sims. But these days, you do not need to have the newest, most powerful PC for music production tasks.

If you have any questions, send us an email! We love to answer questions about tech and music gear. You can find all of our info on the contacts page.

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