Nowadays, even a basic laptop can handle the music production needs of most hobbyists. So why would you still want a dedicated desktop PC for music creation? In this article, we’ll explain why there are a few reasons you might consider abandoning the laptop and picking one of the best PCs for music production.
For starters, desktops tend to be more powerful than laptops, pound for pound. This is because they don't have to worry about being portable, so they can be built with larger components that can handle more demanding tasks.
Desktops are also infinitely more upgradeable than laptops. If you need more power in the future, you can simply upgrade your processor, RAM, or graphics card. This is not as easy to do with a laptop, as you're often limited by the size and form factor of the machine.
Finally, desktops can be more affordable than laptops. If you're on a budget, you can build a powerful desktop PC for a fraction of the price of a high-end laptop. So, if you're serious about music production, a dedicated desktop PC is a great option. Here are a few of the best PCs for music production on the market today.
We've included some expert buying advice at the end of this guide. If you'd like to read more about what you should consider when buying one, then hit the link. If you know what you're looking for and want to get straight to the products, then keep scrolling.
Best PC for music production: Our top picks
With so much to choose from and so many variables, it is hard to offer up one specific range of music production PCs and objectively call them ‘the best’.
If you’ve gone down the ready-made route, there are some great options to choose from. The Dell XPS series offers the perfect balance of price, performance and power, without ostentatious gaming trappings like RGB lights or edgy graphics. It’s a sensible, grown up range of desktop computers that will happily serve you for many years to come.
If your budget isn’t enormous, however, we can highly recommend the HP Envy TE02 desktop series, on account of their superb value and the fact you can upgrade them in the future. We like that their casing moves beyond ‘generic black box’ and into something more aesthetically pleasing, along with the fact you’re getting a lot for your money on the inside. ‘Cos it’s what’s inside that counts, right?
Apple fans, on the other hand, are spoilt for choice. Whatever end of the price buffet you’re choosing from, there’s something for you. At the lower end, the Mac Mini is still an easy PC to recommend on account of its incredible power and tiny footprint, while for those with the cash, the newer Mac Studio range delivers sensational levels of power and performance.
Best PC for music production: Product guide
Dell has built up a lot of credibility as a result of its Macbook Pro-challenging XPS line-up of performance laptops. It figures, therefore, that its XPS desktop range will offer a solid alternative for anybody who doesn’t side with Apple, or isn’t up for going down the gaming PC route.
Sitting above its Inspiron tier of everyman desktops, the Dell XPS 8940 might look fairly unassuming but under the hood is a very nicely spec’d desktop PC which will excel at music production. We particularly like the high number of connectivity options, with four USB 3 slots on the front of the machine, meaning there’s less reliance on dongles and hubs than you might normally encounter.
If you’re looking for a flashy machine you can show off in your YouTube videos, this isn’t it. But if it’s a powerful, trustworthy beast of a desktop PC that will devour renders, plugins and other processes, then the Dell XPS 8940 is a very safe bet indeed.
Apple’s famous all-in-one series has history in the colour stakes, with the old iMac G3 range introducing the idea that computers didn’t have to be black or beige. With the latest Apple iMac M1 line-up, it’s gone back to that playful attitude, only this time there have been some serious changes under the hood. This is down to the new M1 architecture employed by Apple, which is both good and (potentially) not so good news for music production.
The good news is if you’re a Logic Pro X user; Logic and the M1 chip have been optimised to kingdom come, so the user experience there is flawless. Where we’d normally frown at trying to produce tracks using only 8GB of RAM, with the M1 range it works as well as any 16GB+ system we’ve used in the past. The downside is if you use a DAW which hasn’t yet been fully optimised. They’ll still work, thanks to backwards compatibility given by Apple’s Rosetta software, but you won’t enjoy the full performance benefits. Yet. That said, in terms of future-proofing, it’s not like Apple is going to perform a U-turn and go back to Intel so you can bet compatibility will come at some point.
If you’re within the Apple ecosystem already, but want something more static to run your music production tasks, then the Apple Mac Mini is still a safe bet. As with the 2021 Apple iMac, you now have the choice of an Intel-based model, but we’ve opted for the latest M1 version. Apple doesn’t mess around with its tech and the latest M1 chips have been a huge success and can handle most music production tasks with ease.
It’s still the same grey square that it’s been for a number of years, but therein lies its beauty. It’s small enough that it can be tucked away from view, but powerful enough that it will satisfy the needs of many producers and musicians.
A great option for budget-conscious studio owners who aren’t interested in anything super complex or technical is to choose one of the big PC names and go from there. The HP Envy TE02 would make an ideal first home studio PC and is configurable up towards some pretty impressive specifications.
While the base unit would be perfectly capable for a lot, we’d advise pushing the boat out and upping the RAM towards 32GB and, if you can, consider employing the hybrid storage for a nice combination of size and speed.
For the serious (and the semi-serious) music producer, a well-specced Apple machine has always been a solid option. And, while it hasn’t formally killed the veteran Mac Pro, Apple has introduced a smaller, more studio-focused machine for audio, video, design and other creative pursuits. The Apple Mac Studio is small, for a desktop, and can be configured to some pretty mind-blowing numbers - does anybody yet need 192GB of RAM?
It’s worth pointing out that the upgrades and enhancements can only be ordered upfront - everything is soldered down the minute it leaves the factory line so choose your spec wisely - but there’s enough power here to satisfy even the most process-hungry producer for a good while yet.
Read our full Apple Mac Studio review
As if to prove it isn’t Apple that has the monopoly over elegant computers that cost the same as some cars, Microsoft offers up the Surface Studio 2. Now in its second iteration, this is some machine. Centre stage is the 28” PixelSense display, which can be titled downwards so it becomes like an enormous, hugely powerful tablet. We can see the benefits for DAW users of having effectively their entire session laid out in front of them, ready to be tweaked intuitively by hand, rather than mouse and keyboard. It’s all rather futuristic, we think.
That said, innovation like this is going to cost you. That blow is softened when you consider the power this thing is packing – 32GB of RAM will give you confidence running huge multitrack sessions, while the 2TB SSD ensures buttery smooth access to your sample libraries.
It seems churlish when talking about the new Apple Mac Pro, this high peak of consumer computing excellence, to refer to it as the ‘cheese grater’. You have to admit there’s a resemblance though? Put that to one side, however, and marvel at that potential spec sheet. It is, frankly, nuts. Fun game; visit the Apple website and max out the potential specs. We did, and got a final cost of over $64,000. For a computer.
Safe to say the new Mac Pro will be more than you would ever need, and that statement will probably still be valid in 10 years’ time. Nice to dream though, right?
We often include gaming PCs in these buyer's guides simply because they are designed to deliver the kind of power you may well need for music production.
This custom built gaming PC could be the most powerful PC in this round-up as you can spec it however you wish. CLX Scarab currently has a CPU max of as high as the latest Intel Core i9-11900K or AMD Ryzen 9 5900X processors. Graphics go up to the latest AMD Radeon RX 6900 XT or Nvidia RTX 3090 cards, and for RAM and SSD storage, the sky is the limit.
Base configurations start at around $1,500 and you can easily tip over $5,000 (and then some) if you wish, so these machines aren't for everyone. But you're not building the system yourself, so it's guaranteed to work and deliver all the power you need (and can afford).
At around the size of roughly five pieces of bread stacked on top of one another, the Geekom Mini IT8 has a near-perfect spec for any budget-conscious producer. 16GB of RAM means you can manage some pretty hefty sessions, while 256GB solid-state storage (expandable up to 1TB) is good for the price.
We’d perhaps have reservations about how it would cope under serious duress; a sad fact about PCs is that processors under serious pressure produce serious heat, and therefore require cooling. But at this price, and with this level of portability, it may be the perfect machine for anyone starting their music production journey.
Intel's NUC (Next Unit of Computing) spec has resulted in smaller PCs but that doesn't mean less power as this Beelink SEi11 Pro Mini PC proves. It can do all the tasks that a regular desktop machine can handle as it offers the full four-core and eight-thread power of a Core i5 processor. With plenty of memory and an NVMe main drive, the result is a highly responsive machine that runs like something much larger, so will handle many music tasks.
The SEi11 can have its RAM expanded to 64GB and multiple USB 3.2 Gen 2 ports also allow the attachment of plenty of external hardware, including music peripherals. The asking price is higher than some mini PC options, but there is more power here too. A good compact choice.
Best PC for music production: Buying advice
What makes a great music production PC?
Desktop PCs are a great choice for music production because they can offer, pound for pound, more performance than laptops. What they lack in portability they more than make up for in sheer performance and future-proofing. More on that later. In general, the three most important specs you should be looking out for when choosing a music production PC are the processor, RAM, and storage.
Elsewhere, you’ve got a bit of freedom to choose. You might favour something with flashy RGB lighting, or you might look for something with a small footprint. What is important, however, is to look at the machine’s long-term potential. While a flashy all-in-one machine might look incredible on paper, it might not be easy to upgrade in the future which means you might find yourself back at the drawing board in a few years. The smart money is always on buying a machine that can grow with you.
With the right specs for the short term, and the potential to increase its performance in the future with a few key upgrades, a desktop PC can be a great investment for music production.
What CPU do I want in a music production PC?
The processor (or CPU) is the brain of the computer and, for non-Apple buyers, you should be looking out for at least an Intel i5 or AMD Ryzen 5. A slower processor will make everything take longer, such as freezing tracks, rendering mixes, and using complex plugins. Cheap out with the processor and you can expect to spend many an hour staring at a progress bar. RAM is important for music production, particularly if you’re employing sample-based virtual instruments. As an absolute minimum look for 8GB, but ideally, you want 16GB or upwards. Thankfully, this is one of the simplest parts of a PC to upgrade yourself, so if you find your sessions are spluttering down the line you can quickly add some extra RAM and see an instant boost in performance.
Is cooling important with a music production PC?
Also of importance regarding CPUs is the issue of cooling. Desktop PCs are typically larger in size than laptops, and therefore have superior options for cooling. Processors give off plenty of heat, after all. A choice you may have to make is between fan or water cooling. Both have advantages and disadvantages; however, the reduced noise from water cooling gives it an edge in environments where volume levels are a factor, e.g. recording booths.
How much RAM do I need?
RAM is also hugely important. It’s here that the computer holds relevant data and makes it available to access quickly. For audio production that means sample files, bounces and other important data. Thankfully, most desktop computer builds are capable of being upgraded - best to check before you buy - as this does at least allow you to boost its capability in the future. It’s usually fairly inexpensive to do this too. As a minimum, however, we wouldn’t advise starting out with less than 8GB of RAM installed, even 16GB if you can afford it.
What type of storage do I need?
Storage is the other key ingredient. For audio work, we’d recommend a hybrid approach. Regular hard disk drives (HDDs) offer huge amounts of storage, but lack in the speed department. Solid state drives (SSDs), on the other hand, are much quicker at accessing data making them ideal for storing sample libraries but are usually more expensive. Combining the two is often a good solution.
You may have noticed we haven’t mentioned audio capability in a desktop computer – pretty fundamental, you’d think? The simple reason is that music and audio production requirements – i.e. plugging in recording microphones or guitar cables – are better handled by external audio interfaces and that’s an entirely different conversation which we won't cover here.
Whichever option you choose, from pre-made to custom builds, desktop PCs are still very much an attractive proposition for music production. Providing you know the specs you should be looking out for, you’ll be sure to find a machine that will keep pace with you for years to come.
How we test PCs for music production
MusicRadar's got your back Our team of expert musicians and producers spends hours testing products to help you choose the best music-making gear for you. Find out more about how we test.
Music production PCs require a certain degree of performance if they’re being used for music production. You can look on a spec-sheet, or a build list, if you want a theoretical metric for how a machine will perform but in the real world, it’s only when a PC is put under duress that you will see how it will cope with your musical projects.
We carry out a variety of tests when we’re evaluating the best PCs for music production, including standard trials to see speed and performance capabilities when you’re recording, mixing, tweaking and generally navigating your way around a large DAW session. We’ll check the connectivity options, to see if users with large sample libraries on external storage will be happy. And we check the overall snappiness of the PCs actions, from its initial boot-up time through to how quickly and easily it copes with changing external hardware like audio interfaces.
A good machine should be able to breeze through these checks, or it won’t make the list. Finally, we try to get an understanding of the PC’s potential longevity; can it be upgraded with new components and, if so, is that process simple enough? Then, and only then, do we consider a PC suitable for our list.
Find out more about how we test music gear and services at MusicRadar.
Related buyer's guides
- Our pick of the best Macs for music production
- Our guide to the best budget PCs for music production
- Store your sessions: best external hard drives for music production
- Go mobile with our pick of the best laptops for music production
- The best computer monitors for music production: DAW-friendly displays
- Organise your recording space with the best studio desks
- The best studio chairs: are you sitting comfortably?