In years gone by, Apple has thoroughly dominated the best laptops for music production arena, or indeed any creative production. As the only portable platform for Logic Pro X, the Apple MacBook Pro is everywhere in music production, from the DJ booth and pro recording studio setups, to working bands making music on the road and those of us displaying a Mac proudly on our home studio desk.
By comparison, those of us using a PC for music production have traditionally been chained to a desktop format, but that has changed dramatically in recent years. Dell, Microsoft, Samsung, MSI, Asus, Lenovo and others are all muscling in to give Apple a run for its money, and some of them have serious music-making clout.
When it comes to choosing the best laptop for music production, 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 isn't enough for real-world applications. So you need a laptop with enough power to handle the latest software and expanding file sizes.
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For any DJs or traveling musicians reading this, weight is likely to be another major consideration. After all, some of the highest spec, beefiest laptops in the world also weigh a ton, and you'll quickly tire of lugging those behemoths around.
So your best laptop for music production would be lightweight whilst also rocking a good battery capacity, as you could be away from mains power for longer periods at a time.
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. Our price tracker software will come in handy here. Next to each product entry below we've found the best deals online right now to save you having to shop 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 vast swathes of USB hub and docking options available, your hunger for I/O can be sated in such dongles and peripherals. So here we're talking sheer capability 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...
Best laptops for music production: MusicRadar's choice
When attempting to choose the best laptop for music production, it's hard to look past the elephant in the room. 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 pretty clear.
Ignoring the underpowered MacBook Air you're left with the venerable Apple MacBook Pro in its many guises. The choice is really determined by how much you're willing to spend, and what you need it to do. For basic bedroom studios, a 13" model with 8GB may be enough for what you're doing. Professionals would be wiser coughing up the extra cash for the 16GB variant with i5 or, ideally, i7 processor.
If you're particularly loyal to the Apple brand, you have much 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 Asus Rog Strix Scar. With its i7 processor, 16 GB of RAM and thin form factor, it could quite happily eat up the renders all day long.
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. Allow us to cut through the noise, so to speak.
You're 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 and fill the piano roll with data, you're asking the CPU to translate it into sound.
Adding extra plugins works the CPU. Bouncing audio 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.
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A fork in the road
In this world, there are two major players. Intel is the big dog in town, with a huge share of the market. Intel’s range that 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. Within that sphere you have different speed ratings, measured in gigahertz. 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 with the gaming crowd.
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. In reality 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.
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. You see, 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 mean 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.
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If you're buying now, with the next few years of use in mind, we'd suggest 8GB of DDR4 memory is the 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.
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.
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 take a look at some strong options for you to consider.
The best laptops for music production available today
If you can’t quite stomach the price of Apple’s 16-inch MacBook Pro – or just want something a bit smaller and more portable – then the new 13-inch version could well be for you.
Refreshed earlier this year, this now features Apple’s latest Magic Keyboard – a far more comfortable and effective typing surface than its predecessor – and offers more storage as standard and faster processor options.
If you’re going to take the plunge, we’d recommended plumping for one of the two higher-spec models, which come with four Thunderbolt 3 ports as opposed to two. This extra expandability is likely to come in very handy when you start plugging in MIDI keyboards, audio interfaces and the like.
Although you might not be sold on the Touch Bar – it does at least appear to be getting a little more useful for musicians – we’d argue that the 13-inch MacBook Pro hits a nice sweet spot for Apple-flavoured musicians. In fact, when it comes to offering the best balance between power, portability and price, we’d say it’s probably the best Mac laptop you can buy.
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There’s a good reason why this one was at the top of our best laptops for music production list for three years running. The 2019 Dell XPS 13 is a slimmer, more powerful version of the award-winning laptop with a stunning 4K display, touchscreen and a stunning silver of black carbon colour options.
The Dell XPS 13 rocks an 8th-generation Intel Core i5 or i7 processor and a bezel-less ‘Infinity Edge’ display, this Dell XPS 13 continues to be the most popular Windows laptop in the world.
What’s more, there’s a wide range of customisation options, so you can really make the Dell XPS 13 the best laptop for your music production needs.
Read our Dell XPS 13 7390 (2019) review
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.
Read our full Microsoft Surface Laptop 2 review
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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.
The Huawei MateBook X Pro is our pick for the best laptop for music production money can buy in 2020. After years of this list being dominated by the (still excellent) Dell XPS 13, the MateBook X Pro has proved to be a truly brilliant challenger.
This is a gorgeously-designed laptop with a stunning screen (albeit with a rather odd aspect ratio), and it comes packed with cutting edge components that allows it to perform brilliantly, and a battery life that runs rings around many of its rivals.
It also has a very competitive price, giving you features, design and performance for quite a bit less money. Sadly, it's not available in many countries, so if you struggle to grab hold of it, look into getting the Dell XPS 13, which is our number two pick for the best laptop.
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 in 2020. 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.
Read our full Asus ZenBook Flip S UX370 review
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.