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Apple’s M1 Macs and macOS Big Sur: here’s what music producers need to know about DAW and plugin compatibility

Apple macOS Big Sur Mac
(Image credit: Apple)

While the launch of Apple’s new M1-powered silicon Macs is generating a lot of headlines, for existing macOS music makers there’s a bigger question: should they upgrade to Big Sur, Apple’s latest operating system?

While the Mac world is very much in flux at the moment, with Apple currently transitioning away from Intel processors, the good news is that, on this particular question, there’s a pretty clear cut answer: updating to Big Sur at this stage is not a good idea.

Leaving aside the fact that any new OS will inevitably have bugs and quirks - some of which may not already be apparent - the big issue is that of compatibility. Until you have cast-iron confirmation that your DAW, plugins and audio hardware works and is supported in Big Sur, upgrading is not a good idea, particularly if you’re in the middle of a big project and don’t want to risk any disruption.

As a side note, if you want to avoid an accidental Big Sur upgrade, you should make sure that the automatic update option in your Mac’s Software Update tool is turned off.

Should you buy an M1 silicon Mac?

If you’re thinking of buying an M1 Mac, there’s another consideration: not only does your software need to be compatible with Big Sur, but it also needs to be updated to ‘Universal’ status to run natively. There is a potential workaround in the form of Rosetta, an Apple technology that enables Intel-only apps to run on M1 machines, but it remains to be seen what kind of implications this has on performance.

What's more, we don't yet know how well these new Macs perform as music-making machines. While Apple is promising great performance and longer battery life, its claims have yet to be tested.

Just to confuse things further, you could also be compromised if you buy a new Intel Mac, as this will likely have Big Sur pre-installed. So, even if your music software is compatible with your Mac hardware, it might not run on your OS.

As things stand, very few companies beyond Apple (Logic Pro and GarageBand) are fully up to speed. Here’s a round-up of what some of the major players are saying. We’ll update this list with any key information as and when it comes through.

If you’re looking for info on a specific developer, Pro Tools Expert has a handy and searchable Big Sur compatibility database.

macOS Big Sur and M1 Macs: music software compatibility

Steinberg

“Not only did Apple introduce a new operating system but also a new hardware platform with the Apple Silicon system on a chip (SoC) solution. While many of our products are compatible with macOS Big Sur on Intel-based systems, please note that we cannot recommend using Apple Silicon-based systems for the time being until we have completed our tests or released updates to make our software and hardware compatible.”

Native Instruments

Although some NI products are Big Sur ready, most are not, with the company saying: “We are currently conducting systematic tests with the release version of macOS 11 (Big Sur) in order to offer full compatibility of our soft- and hardware products as soon as possible.”

Universal Audio

“UA software, including UAD, Apollo, and LUNA, is not currently compatible with Big Sur, says Universal Audio. “UA software compatibility with Big Sur is being thoroughly tested, and full qualification is coming in future software updates. We recommend that you wait until UAD software compatibility with Big Sur is announced before updating to this new operating system.

On the subject of Apple’s new silicon Macs, meanwhile, UA says: “UA software, including UAD, Apollo, and LUNA, is not currently compatible with Apple M1 computer systems. UA software compatibility with M1 Macs is being developed and full qualification is coming in future software updates.”

Spectrasonics

Some good news from Spectrasonics, as it says: “All four Spectrasonics virtual instruments (Omnisphere 2, Trilian, Keyscape and Stylus RMX) are now compatible and officially supported for use in Mac OS11 Big Sur! If you have Spectrasonics instrument(s) you can now install and update to the latest version available to use your instruments on Mac OS11 Big Sur.”

On the subject of the silicon Macs, the company says that the software listed above “seems to be working OK within Rosetta 2 DAWs,” but that native versions won’t be available until early in 2021.

Slate Digital

“We're currently aware of some critical issues using Slate Digital/All Access Pass products in macOS Big Sur. We ask for your patience while our development team works out the issues and to wait to update your system until we announce official support for macOS Big Sur.”

Reason Studios

It looks like Reason versions 11.3.4 and later are compatible with Big Sur, but earlier versions currently aren’t. 

The company has also released a brief statement regarding M1 chip compatibility: “No Reason Studios product is currently compatible with the Apple M1 chip. We are working on being compatible with Apple M1 in the future.”

Arturia

There are no guarantees from Arturia, with the company saying: “Until thorough testing with the final release version of Big Sur is conducted, we cannot guarantee full compatibility with all of our products.”

Plugin Alliance

“We are happy to announce that all of our products are compatible with the recent macOS Big Sur 11.0.1 update.

“Notice that if you own a machine with a new Apple M1 Chip already though, we are not ready for that yet. We are currently working hard on qualifying this, too.

“Please stay subscribed to our newsletter or check our online FAQ's regularly to obtain information on the current operating system requirements.”

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