Traditionally, the top spot for the best laptop for music production – or any creative production - has long been dominated by Apple. As the only portable platform for Logic Pro X, the Macbook, in all its various forms, is ubiquitous within all walks of music production, from the DJ booth to the road and from home studios to pro setups.
PC users have usually been confined to the humble old desktop format, but things are changing. With the rise of the ultrabook and gaming laptops, Apple’s stranglehold on the world of music production, mobile or otherwise, is at an end. The Cupertino-based firm is now trading punches with Microsoft, Dell, Samsung, MSI, Asus, Acer, Lenovo and even Huawei.
When shopping for your next big-budget music production laptop, you’ll need to be focussing much of your attention on power and memory. Although, the basic specification requirements for most DAWs is a multi-core processor, around 4GB of RAM and a few gigabytes of storage, this is nowhere near what's required for real-world applications. Therefore a machine capable of handling the latest software and ever-increasing file sizes is required.
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Another feature high on a DJ or travelling musician’s list is weight - the lighter the better. Combined with that other must-have - good battery capacity - and we quickly see the price for a good all-round laptop reach premium levels.
So in this roundup we will be concentrating our search on the best laptops that are available in the world today for musicians, so you can be sure that your future-proofing yourself for the longest time possible.
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 etc. With vast swathes of USB hub and docking options available, your hunger for I/O can be sated in such dongles and peripherals. Nope, here we're talking sheer capability. Can your portable rig cope with large multitrack sessions, running handfuls of plugins and MIDI instruments?
What are the best laptops for music production right now?
When attempting to choose the best laptop for audio and 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, your choices are pretty clear. Ignoring the underpowered Macbook Air, you're left with the venerable 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-style studios, a 13" model with 8GB may be enough. Professionals would be wiser coughing up the extra cash for the 16GB variant with i5 or, ideally, i7 processor.
If you're not tied to the Apple brand, you do have more choice. For more serious work it pays to look at the world of gaming laptops. Don't be put off by their visual stylings – gamers require lots of power, and very quick processors. Much like producers. For our money, we were 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. We can help though. Allow us to cut through the noise, so to speak.
In essence, 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 plug-ins 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.
As you can see, there is a lot to think about when choosing a laptop for music production. Let's take a look at some strong options for you to consider.
The best laptops for music production you can buy
1. Apple Macbook Pro
The best Macbook Pro ever, improved
CPU: Quad-core Intel Core i5 – i7 | Graphics: Intel Iris Plus Graphics 655 | RAM: 8GB – 16GB | Screen: 13.3-inch, (2,560 x 1,600) IPS | Storage: 128GB – 2TB PCIe 3.0 SSD
If you're after the latest and greatest laptop from Apple, we suggest you look into the 2019 model of the 13-inch Macbook Pro with Touch Bar. While Microsoft had the performance edge over last year's MacBook Pro, with the Surface Book 2, Apple has come out swinging with some seriously beefed up specs for the 13-inch MacBook Pro 2019, and even more so if you go for the larger 15-inch model. As such, right now it's the best laptop for music production.
The headline Touch Bar – a thin OLED display at the top of the keyboard can be used for any number of things, most notably the features within Logic Pro X 10.4.5. It's certainly retained Apple's sense of style, but it comes at a cost. This is a pricey machine, so you may want to consider one of the Windows alternatives.
If you're open to switching to a PC, definitely consider the XPS 13 or the excellent MateBook X Pro. But, if you're a steadfast Apple diehard, this is definitely the best laptop for you!
2. Dell XPS 13
Still one of the best laptops ever made
CPU: 8th generation Intel Core i5 – i7 | Graphics: Intel UHD Graphics 620 | RAM: 8GB – 16GB | Screen: 13.3-inch FHD (1,920 x 1,080) – 4k (3840 x 2160) | Storage: 256GB – 1TB SSD
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.
3. Huawei MateBook 13
The new pick for the best laptop in the world
CPU: 8th generation Intel Core i5 – i7 | Graphics: Intel UHD Graphics 620 , Nvidia GeForce MX150 2GB GDDR5 | RAM: 8GB | Screen: 13-inch 1440p (2,160 x 1,440) | Storage: 512GB SSD
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.
4. Microsoft Surface Laptop 2
A brilliant sequel from Microsoft
CPU: Intel Core i5-i7 | Graphics: Intel UHD Graphics 620 | RAM: 8GB – 16GB | Storage: 128GB, 256GB, 512GB or 1TB SSD
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 this list.
Read the full review: Microsoft Surface Laptop 2
5. Asus Rog Strix Scar III
Serious power for serious work
CPU: Intel i7 | Graphics: NVIDIA GeForce RTX 2060 6GB | RAM: 16 GB (base) | Screen: 15.6” Full HD | Storage: 1TB SSD
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.
6. MSI GF63
Gaming heavyweight packs a punch for musicians
CPU: 9th Generation Intel i5 | Graphics: NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1650 4 GB | RAM: 8 GB (max 64 GB) | Screen: 15.6” Full HD display/120 Hz | Storage: 256 GB SSD
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 option 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.
7. Samsung Notebook 9
A beautiful MacBook Pro alternative
CPU: Intel i7-8550U | Graphics: Nvidia GeForce MX150 | RAM: 8GB-16GB | Screen: 15-inch 1,920 x 1,080 LED | Storage: 256-512GB SSD
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.
8. Microsoft Surface Pro 7
Superb two-in-one, but can it handle music?
CPU: Intel Core i3 - i7 | Graphics: Intel Iris Plus | RAM: 4 GB – 16 GB | Screen: 12.3” Full HD | Storage: 128 GB – 1 TB SSD
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.
9. Asus ZenBook Flip S UX370
An absolutely incredible 2-in-1 laptop
CPU: Intel Core i7-855OU | Graphics: Intel UHD Graphics 620 | RAM: 16GB | Screen: 13.3-inch full HD touchscreen | Storage: 512GB PCIe SSD
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 laptop.
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 the full review: Asus ZenBook Flip S UX370
10. Acer Swift 3
The best budget Ultrabook
CPU: Dual-core Intel Core i3 – i7 | Graphics: Intel HD Graphics 620 | RAM: 4GB – 8GB DDR4 | Screen: 14-inch full HD (1920 x 1080) ComfyView IPS | Storage: 128GB – 256GB SSD
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.