Let’s be honest, buying one of the best external hard drives for music production is no more exciting than buying a steam mop. But while it’s not among the sexiest things you'll ever purchase, it is undoubtedly one of the most important, especially if you create a lot of music, or shoot a lot of videos.
Whether you're recording huge multitrack DAW sessions, pulling from a sample library running into multiple digits in gigabytes or editing masses of 4K video footage for YouTube, a reliable external hard drive for your Mac or PC is worth its weight in gold.
At some point, we've no doubt all experienced the problems that come with storing – or accessing – our precious files and data. This could be down to poor transfer speeds getting in the way of our production workflows, or it could mean the nightmare of losing valuable files or information altogether. There are solutions and safety nets however, with the reliable external hard drives we’re showing here. Let's take a look.
Best external hard drives for music production: Our top picks
External hard drives can be thought of like good football referees; you only notice them if something goes wrong. And, as anyone who has suffered at the hands of a faulty disc drive will testify, when they go wrong the results can be absolutely devastating. So it makes sense – even if just for your own peace of mind – to have the safety net of one of the best external hard drives for music production on your side. For us, the portable drive that best fits the bill for musicians is the Samsung T5 range. The drive is small enough that it can be tucked away from view, yet its solid-state technology is both quick and reliable.
In our experience, it can be something as simple as a separate hard drive, rather than a maxed-out beast of a new computer, that can have the biggest impact on your musical workflow. By freeing up the computer to do its thing, and not constantly be trekking back and forth to access files, you're taking the load off it to focus on all the other important tasks. In the Samsung T5 range, you’ll find the perfect drive to ensure external storage offers a potential performance boost as well as an insurance policy.
Best external hard drives for music production: Product guide
Ideally, if your setup is studio based, you want a hard drive to be plugged in and forgotten about. The Samsung T5 series is perfect for this. As a solid state drive, it is both quick and reliable enough that you can store entire sample libraries on it, yet its dinky size means it can be hidden away behind a monitor, quietly working its magic.
Samsung claims that, when compared to a standard HDD, the T5 can transfer data up to five times faster. For sample-heavy sessions, this is pretty liberating and can reduce the amount of time spent bouncing MIDI regions into audio. Highly recommended.
Buy the Samsung T5 Portable SSD
The best external hard drive for laptop-friendly workflow comes in the shape of the Seagate 1TB Fast. The Fast offers impressive read/write speeds of up to 540MB a second. Connectivity is managed via USB C, meaning the data is being retrieved as quickly as possible, although a standard USB cable is included so you can still use it on slightly older machines.
Seagate is one of the bigger names in media storage, so has some pedigree. There's a good range of capacities on offer too, from a basic 250GB right through to a healthy 2TB. It's also small enough, and shock resistant enough, that stuffing it in a backpack every day won't feel like you're leaving your precious data's safety in the lap of the gods.
Taking rugged portability to the next level comes the SanDisk Extreme Portable. With the high data transfer speeds you'd expect of an SSD, the Extreme Portable also packs in a bunch of resistance to things like dust, water and drops.
You might think this could be a bit overkill for creative production tasks. But consider the field-recordist stood out in the rain capturing the sounds of nature, or the videographer filming in harsher climes. If reliability and toughness is required, the SanDisk Extreme might be your new best buddy.
Buy the SanDisk Extreme Portable
Certain drives become synonymous with certain applications, and the LaCie range's popularity with creative professions is legendary. These iconic orange drives are used by photographers, videographers and musicians everywhere, and for good reason.
On paper, the LaCie Rugged Mini drives aren't that advanced. They only offer a 5,400rpm data transfer speed, so realistically you aren't going to be streaming sample libraries from one. But as a portable backup drive, its shock resistance and small size means it is perfect for on-the-go performers and creators.
We’ve outlined that external hard drives aren’t the most glamorous purchases you’ll ever make, which might explain why so many of them are simple grey/black rectangles. One such rectangle, the Toshiba Canvio, has a lot going for it though in terms of price-to-capacity. For a shade under £/$35 you can get a solid 1TB external drive which will store all your songs, samples and other media.
The range starts at 500GB and goes all the way up to 4TB. There aren’t many better options out there for cheap, reliable large volume storage. Mac users should be aware the Canvio comes formatted as NTFS so you’ll need to reformat before use, but that’s not a big deal.
Buy the Toshiba Canvio hard drive
As one of the other big names in media storage, Western Digital – now more commonly known as WD – has a wide range of options for your data needs. The WD Elements range is well-established, and has drives of all sizes to suit your requirements.
The Elements range comes in sizes up to 5TB – enough to store around 1.25 million songs – and comes in both portable and desktop versions. Data transfer is handled by USB 3.0, which lags behind modern USB C options, but as a backup disc it will more than suffice.
If, over the last 10 or so years, you’ve amassed a collection of photos, movies, videos and music production files, you’re going to need somewhere big to store it. They don’t come much bigger, offline at least, than the Seagate Desktop which offers a gargantuan 8TB of HDD storage. In context, that’s around 136,000 hours of music. In one box.
Of course, if you’re storing that much media in one place the need for a backup (of the backup) is even higher; being an HDD it will at some point fail, due to moving parts. But as part of a wider home storage solution, it certainly has a place at the table.
Buy the Seagate Desktop hard drive
A much different beast now, one more suited to the centre of the living room than the backpacks of sonic explorers. The WD My Cloud Home is very much designed with domestic use in mind, but that's not to say music producers should discount it.
It comes in a range of enormous sizes - up to 8TB - and it offers the perfect opportunity to remove all those films, songs, books and photographs from your laptop. With those out of the way, your production machine becomes much leaner and better able to handle recording applications.
We'll end this list with something of a monster in the drives world. The TerraMaster D5 series provides 2+3 RAID storage facilities for storing up to 50TB of files. RAID systems essentially combine the powers of multiple drives, giving you elite levels of performance, security and capacity.
Going down the RAID route isn't cheap - the TerraMaster doesn't come with its own actual drives, you need to buy them separately - but as a system designed to store gargantuan piles of data, they are peerless. For professional studio owners, this route offers the peak of storage technology. It's not sexy, but it sure is sensible.
Buy the TerraMaster D5-300C hard drive
Best external hard drive for music production: Buying advice
Which external hard drive is right for you?
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When choosing the best external hard drive for your system or studio setup, you'll want to ask yourself a few questions. Most notably, you'll want to ask yourself what kind of setup you have in your home studio already. If at one end of the scale, you are using a basic laptop and running everything from within said laptop, then you're in for a treat when it comes to external drives. Here's why.
There are four main discs you'll want to involve when it comes to computer audio production. The operating disc sits within the computer and essentially manages the thing, opening and running applications, making sure everything works as it should. The second disc is the writing disc, where the computer 'writes' new data to the disc; for musicians, this means all those multitrack sessions, sounds and parameter changes.
Thirdly, you'll want somewhere to store all those space-intensive sample libraries. If you've ever tried to run a sample library directly from within the main laptop drive, you'll know the problems this can cause. Effectively, the computer is trying to read and write data from the same place, at the same time. It simply can't keep up. And the final piece of the puzzle is the literal insurance policy; the backup drive. You're going to want one of these. At least one.
There are different types of external hard drives to consider. They generally vary in terms of functionality, connectivity and portability. Function-wise, you'll find hard disc drives (HDDs) and solid-state drives (SSDs). HDDs are typically cheaper but have slower transfer speeds and mechanical parts which can fail. SSDs, on the other hand, have no moving parts and are exponentially faster, but do come with a heftier price tag.
Connections are crucial too; USB 2 drives are older and slower, while newer USB C or Thunderbolt drives offer lightning-quick transfers. As with anything, you get what you pay for with portable drives. Ready to invest in reliable storage? Hit the ‘product guide’ button above to examine some of the best external hard drives for music production available today.
Find out more about how we test music gear and services at MusicRadar.
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