For years now, Apple has produced some of the best laptops for music production. As the only portable platform for Logic Pro X, the Apple MacBook Pro is synonymous with the craft of music-making. By comparison, those of us using a PC have traditionally been chained to the desktop format, but that has changed considerably in recent years. Dell, Microsoft, Samsung, MSI, Asus, Lenovo and others big tech brands are all muscling in to give Apple a serious run for its money, and some of them have proper music-making clout too. All of which is great for the consumer, as it gives us genuine choice over the path we choose for music production.
Regardless of which platform you opt for, there are some factors which remain the same. When it comes to choosing the best laptop for your home studio, you'll want to pay close attention to the power and memory specs of the machine you're eyeing up. While the basic requirements for most DAWs is a multi-core processor, around 4GB of RAM and a few gigabytes of storage, this won't be enough for real-world applications. Buying based on the ‘minimum recommended’ specs is a recipe for future angst. Instead, you need a laptop with enough power to handle the latest software and expanding file sizes, with enough juice in the tank to cope with whatever your future requirements may be.
A quick look at the best music-making machines on the planet right now:
1. Dell XPS 13
2. Apple MacBook Pro M1 13"
3. Apple MacBook Pro 16"
4. Razer Blade 15 Studio Edition
5. Asus Rog Strix Scar III
6. Microsoft Surface Laptop 2
7. MSI GF63
8. Samsung Notebook 9
9. Microsoft Surface Pro 7
10. Asus ZenBook Flip S UX370
11. Acer Swift 3
For any DJs or traveling musicians reading this, weight - and portability - is likely to be another major factor. After all, some of the highest spec, beefiest laptops in the world also weigh a fair amount, and your shoulders will quickly tire of lugging those behemoths around.
So, the best laptop for music production should be powerful and lightweight, while also rocking a good battery capacity, for those situations where you’re away from mains power.
It's easy to see why a good all-round laptop can fetch a premium price tag, but, as with anything from the best samplers and studio monitors to home studio mixers, you get what you pay for, so it's always wise to get the best you can afford, rather than skimping and regretting your purchase later (often quicker than you thought). Our price comparison software will come in handy here. Next to each product entry on this guide our price widgets will display the best deals online right now to save you shopping around.
We won’t be focussing on various legacy ins and outs, such as the number of USB sockets, or lack of, for your audio interface, and so on. With so many dongle and docking options available, this shouldn’t be a deciding factor in your purchasing journey. Here we're talking sheer horsepower for music-making. For example, can your portable rig cope with large multitrack sessions, running handfuls of plugins and MIDI instruments? Let's take a closer look…
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Best laptops for music production: Our top picks
When attempting to choose the best laptop for music production, your shortlist will lead you down one of two paths; Mac or PC. We're not here to argue the merits of either, but put simply, you're either a Mac person, or you're not. If you are, then your choices are incredibly simple – do you want to go large or small?
Ignoring the underpowered MacBook Air, you're left with the Apple MacBook Pro in its many guises. With our crystal ball in action, we’d put our money on the new Apple M1 MacBook Pro line being the one to choose. However, it’s not that simple, at least not yet. The question to ask is whether you’re happy to wait for all the big software brands to fully optimise their applications for the new range, or if you need something more immediately than that. If you can wait six months, we’d be confident everything will be running smoothly on the M1 MacBooks and, if the specifications are anything to go by, it will prove worth the wait.
If, on the other hand, you're not particularly loyal to the Apple brand, you have far more choice. For more serious music production work, we'd recommend looking to the world of gaming laptops. Don't be put off by their visual stylings – gamers require lots of power and very quick processors, which is good news for you. For our money, we're taken with the Razer Blade 15 Studio Edition. It’s incredibly powerful, looks amazing and would make a worthy studio powerhouse across a range of creative pursuits.
The best laptops for music production: Product guide & reviews
Billed as the closest Windows alternative to an Apple MacBook Pro, the Dell XPS line has built up a strong reputation thanks to its sleek design, gorgeous screens and powerful spec. The 2020 version packs in an updated 10th-generation Intel Core i5 or i7 processor and a quite spectacular bezel-less screen which keeps the overall package thin and lightweight. There’s a beefier 15” model further up the range, but for most people the Dell XPS 13 (2020) makes for a pretty compelling package.
If you read the generalist mainstream tech media reviews of the new Apple silicon laptops, you’d be forgiven for thinking we’d witnessed a paradigm change. Apple’s new in-house M1 chip does, on paper at least, seem to perform streets ahead of its competition, promising unprecedented boosts in speed, performance and battery life. It does this by combining CPU, GPU and memory into one chip, greatly reducing power usage and delivering a hugely optimised computing experience. Does that mean musicians and studio owners should invest right away? The jury is still out on that, at least for now.
While having a powerful machine is one part of the equation, we’re also reliant on the hardware playing nicely with the software packages we use in our work. As you’d expect, Logic Pro X and Garageband users can immediately take advantage of all this extra optimization, but for users of Live, Cubase, Pro Tools et al the picture is less clear. Full support will be available in the future, that goes without saying, but currently it’s not quite there enough to make a full recommendation. Ask us again in six months and it might be clearer, but for now it might be worth holding on to your existing laptop. If Apple’s lofty promises over performance are kept – and usually, they are – then sure, this could be a revolutionary machine, but let’s see how it performs out in the field when the third-party software providers are fully on-board.
Read the full Apple MacBook Pro M1 13" review
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While the 13” Apple MacBook Pro is ideal for touring musicians, or producers who travel between studios, the newer Apple MacBook Pro 16” offers the ultimate in performance. Configurable to a range of specifications, the 16” version is the true flagship of Apple’s portable range.
It goes without saying that all this performance will set you back a few dollars – and then some – but in return you’re getting one of the best-equipped creative powerhouses you can get. With blazing fast CPUs, RAM which can be maxed out at 64GB and up to 8TB of internal solid-state storage, this might be all the laptop you ever need.
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Think of a gaming laptop, and you probably imagine garish colours, RGB lights all over the shop and enough power under the hood to light up a continent. With the Razer Blade 15 Studio, however, we have a monstrously powerful laptop with its origins in the gaming world, but with its sights very much set on creative pursuits. There are some nice visual touches, from the customisable RGB backlighting on the keys, but otherwise this is a strong, slick studio beast which demands attention.
At the higher end of the gaming PC spectrum - not a bad place for music producers to look when sheer power is required - there are some serious studio contenders. The Asus Rog Strix Scar is evidence of this; with an Intel i7 processor and a base spec of 16 GB of RAM, you know this machine can chew through any audio production task you throw at it.
Hudson Mohawke, the Scottish electronic producer, is a known fan, and with good reason. Once you get past the garish colour scheme and 'edgy' gamer branding, you have an immensely capable, lightweight computer that would rival many traditional desktop arrangements.
Microsoft's second attempt at a pure laptop device is an absolute winner in our view, and while it doesn't represent a huge overhaul of the original Surface Laptop, it offers improvements in all the areas we were hoping for, including updated hardware that brings serious performance benefits.
This is a laptop that finally delivers on what Microsoft set out to do with the original: a pure, powerful Windows 10 laptop experience. If you're not sold on the 2-in-1 nature of the Surface Book 2, but love Microsoft's premium build quality and design, then the Surface Laptop 2 is the laptop for you. A very worth addition to our best laptops for music production guide.
MSI is one of the more respected names in gaming PCs, so it figures that their flagship mid-range offer features some decent internals. The MSI GF63 is the ideal blend of performance and aesthetics, and would make a superb laptop for anyone using their laptop for live performance or as a portable studio on account of its thin form factor and cooling features.
Performance-wise, it's packing a 2.4 GHz i5 processor, so solid enough to cope with most tasks. We liked the potential for upgrading though; it ships with 8GB of DDR4 RAM installed, but with space to house up to 64GB so the potential for future-proofing your rig is clear. As your live sets or studio sessions grow in size, so too can your laptop.
While it may not have the best keyboard in the world, the Samsung Notebook 9 is still one of the best laptops you can buy. Packed with more horsepower than the MacBook Pro, but at a much lower price, Samsung has crafted a laptop that has just as much substance as it does style.
Plus, on top of its killer specs, it’s lightweight and thin, making this one of the most portable 15-inch laptops you can buy today.
As Microsoft's riposte to Apple's dominance, the stakes were high when it released the Surface Pro series. With Apple's hold on creative professionals being so strong, the Surface Pro had a lot to live up to. And, with the Microsoft Surface Pro 7, it it edging ever closer to bridging that gap.
Admittedly, a razor thin two-in-one is never going to be the production powerhouse that a dedicated PC or Mac would be, but as a device geared towards portability it's near impeccable.
The main stumbling block will be the price; for a fully tricked-out version with Intel i7 processor and 16 GB of RAM, you're looking north of $2k. But as a premium device that can handle music, along with everything else life can throw at you, it's a solid option. A quoted full day of battery life is not to be sniffed at either.
Asus has struck gold with its new refresh of its ZenBook Flip S 2-in-1 laptop, with the Asus ZenBook Flip S UX370 impressing us so much it's made it's way into our list of the 10 best laptops for music production you can buy right now.
With a new Kaby Lake R 8th-generation processor powering the device, plenty of RAM and a super-fast PCIe SSD in certain models, this is an absolutely stunning addition to our rundown of the best laptops for music production.
Its 2-in-1 design means you can use it as both a laptop and a tablet, and while it's not as affordable as some machines on this list, if you have the budget you'll be really happy with this fantastic device.
While you may have been convinced that ‘budget Ultrabook’ was an oxymoron up until this point, the Acer has turned this common misconception on its head with the Swift 3. That’s because the company has taken the all-aluminum chassis of the Acer Swift 7 and stuffed some more affordable components inside for everyone to enjoy.
It doesn’t run macOS, but the Acer Swift 3 does put the age-old MacBook Air to shame in about every other regard, including the nigh-unbeatable price tag. Of course, in the process of demolishing the competition, Acer did have to cut a few corners in order to keep the price so impressively low.
So although you can’t expect much in the way of an Ultra HD display or quality onboard sound, the performance benchmarks alone give even the Surface Laptop a run for its money.
Best Laptops for music production: Buying advice
Choosing a laptop capable of running CPU-intensive audio production work can be tricky. Some options focus heavily on battery life. Others major on performance, and favour higher-grade processors (CPUs) to ensure operations run snappily. Add into that differences in screen sizes, aesthetics and any number of other variables and we can easily see how it’s hard to justify buying one model over another.
You're essentially looking for two major things on the spec-sheet above all others: the CPU and the available RAM. The CPU is what does the real work. So every time you load a new MIDI instrument, fill the piano roll with data, or bounce down audio to new tracks, you're asking the CPU to translate it into sound.
Adding extra effects or instrument plugins works the CPU. Exporting finished versions of your tracks works the CPU. You get the picture. If it involves processing, the CPU is your best friend so it pays to prioritise a solid model over most other features.
CPUs: A fork in the road
Essentially, a faster processor means two things; your computer can handle more tasks being thrown at it, and it can 'process' those things a lot quicker. You may see only small differences; perhaps an audio file will render one minute quicker using the faster of two processors, but over time this clearly adds up.
In the CPU world, there are two major players. Intel is the big name, with a huge share of the market. Intel’s range goes from i3 – the least powerful – all the way up to i9. Most common in mid-to-upper tier laptops, however, are the i5 and i7 variants, and within that sphere you have different speed ratings, measured in gigahertz, as well as the option to turbo-boost when you’re placing the computer under major stress. The other name to look out for is AMD, which produces the Ryzen processors. These follow a similar nomenclature to the Intel versions, so R3, R5 and so on, and are popular amongst the gaming crowd.
Where things might change in the coming years is with Apple’s switch to using its own in-house silicon CPU, called the M1. It’s been well-documented about the changes that are on the way, and the resulting boost in power and performance, but for musicians and producers the true benefits to this are likely a way off yet. For a start, the software vendors must ensure compatibility with this new architecture which is by no means guaranteed. So, while it’s worth keeping an eye on developments, it doesn’t necessarily mean holding off on your purchase in the short term.
With RAM, as we mentioned, you can ignore the 'minimum specs' listed on the websites of the major DAWs. Anybody who tries to run a multitrack Ableton Live session on a laptop with 4GB of RAM is braver (or more patient) than we are. That’s because RAM is effectively the short-term memory of your machine. With audio applications, particularly those involving lots of recorded audio, a higher amount of RAM means your audio playback is buttery smooth and glitch-free because the computer isn't having to 'grab' the audio from the hard drive each time it wants to play.
If you're buying now, with the next few years of use in mind, we'd suggest 8GB of DDR4 memory is the absolute minimum you should be looking for. Ideally, you'd want 16GB, as this will handle much larger arrangements, although there is a cost to this extra resource.
It's also worth investigating whether the laptop you choose can be upgraded with extra RAM in the future. Apple laptop fans won't have this luxury, due to their sealed chassis, but laptop PC users might.
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Storage memory comes a close second. For audio applications, particularly those involving sample libraries where audio is streamed from disk, you'll want to use a solid state drive (SSD). The benefit of these drives is the rapid data transfer, meaning files load quicker, although they are slightly more expensive than their hard disk drive (HDD) equivalent. For music production applications, however, the extra expense is totally justified.
It's not uncommon however to see a combination employed – a HDD for storage of files, photos and videos, and an SSD for tasks where more instantaneous responses are required. The alternative involves using external hard drives; SSDs, particularly those that take advantage of USB-C technology, are more than capable of the types of transfer speeds required for music production.
So, clearly there is a lot to think about when choosing the best laptop for music production. Let's check out some strong options for you to consider.