Whether you have dreams of internet fame in the music world, or want to start a podcast with friends, having a recording studio in your home has never been more accessible. What used to require a large room with acoustic treatment and expensive equipment now can be set up in your bedroom with only a few components. However, recording pristine audio requires some know-how and the right equipment. Not just any laptop will do, just like that old mic you have laying around from your high school band days will not quite do either.
While we have you covered with the basics of what you will need to start recording audio for home studio, we have compiled a list of things to consider when buying a laptop for a home studio. Since your computer is likely going to be the most important aspect of your home studio, thinking about the following aspects can improve your workflow, and increase the dependability of your computer.
Why You Need to Think About Your Laptop
If you have ever run a larger video game, or software, on an older or less powerful laptop, you will know the process can be frustrating. Lagging, latency, crashing, programs not working right – all of these are regular occurrences with laptops or any computer that is not equipped to run these programs. Running a DAW is no different. The last thing you want while recording live is your software to crash.
Thinking about what laptop to get also opens a world of different sound design options that can be open to yourself as well.
What to Consider When Looking for a Laptop for a Home Studio
Before thinking about what laptop you need, I think it is important to consider what your recording goals are, as this can inform what you really need. If you are looking into casually making music or recording audio in your spare time, you can get away with a laptop with lesser specs – but you may have to deal with the occasional lag or crash. However, if you are a professional musician, or someone with professional musician aspirations, we highly suggest following the advice in this guide for optimal computer performance.
Another thing to think about is what type of program you wish to work in. Logic X Pro, for example, is only available on Mac computers. Mac also runs Ableton smoothly – I have never had issues with this combination. On the flip side, FL Studio is optimized for Windows, but works solidly on Mac too.
Beyond all other aspects you will consider when looking into a new laptop for your music production set up, the specifications relating to laptop performance are at the top, specifically your processor, RAM, and Hard drive storage. These will define the experience of running your DAW, running any additional plug-ins, or loading samples. The last thing you want is a laptop that will struggle to run your DAW, or will slow down your workflow to a halt when your project gets large enough. From TechRadar to Rolling Stone, it is commonly agreed that the three most important things to look for in a laptop are the following:
- CPU – look for a quad-core processor.
- RAM – look for 8GB of RAM at minimum.
- Hard Drive storage – more than 256 SSD preferable, although you can use an external hard drive.
The CPU, or processor, is central to your computer’s operation. According to Intel, the processor “provides the instructions and processing power the computer needs to do its work.” Since processors are highly important for running programs, having processing power is very important for running programs essential to your home studio.
There are two aspects of the processors you should consider when looking for a laptop for your home studio. First is the number of cores.
According to Intel, “Each core can process data independently, so adding cores dramatically increases processing power.” A quad-core processor will be the most effective for music production, as it will enable your computer to perform more tasks simultaneously, which will improve the workflow when you are working with a large project with several audio tracks, plug-ins and effects going all at once.
The next consideration is the clock speed, which determines the overall speed of a computer – and typically ranges from 2.4 to 4.2 GHz. The faster the better, but ultimately this is of lesser importance than the number of cores you have.
Intel states that RAM, or Random Access Memory, is the computer’s short term memory, where it can store data it is currently working on for easy accessibility. Music production typically requires a lot of RAM, as when you are working on a project, you will constantly tweak, add, or re-record parts. We suggest at minimum 8GB of RAM for music production, however computers with RAM as high as 16GB are available and are recommended. You can get away with less, however sometimes RAM can be improved upon, so if you are springing for a laptop with 4GB of RAM (the absolute minimum you will need for recording) we recommend seeing if your laptop’s RAM can be improved.
The Hard Drive
Music production takes up a lot of storage space. While the programs and plug-ins you run will take a decent chunk of disk space, as you start producing and creating more and more tracks, your projects can start taking up Gigabytes of your disk space! It is recommended that you choose a laptop with at least 256Gb of internal storage, but you can also supplement a laptop with less storage space with an external hard drive.
Most production setups utilize an audio interface to connect mics, instruments, and monitors to your laptop. Most audio interfaces will connect via USB cable from my experience, but many newer products are using USB-C as the new standard. If you want to futureproof your set up, a laptop with a USB-C connection will ensure your laptop stays perfectly usable for years.
When I bought the laptop I still use to produce to this day – a 2014 MacBook Air – I was a broke college student, and I opted for the smallest screen that I could. Having spent many hours coproducing on friends and collaborators laptops, I can say that a large screen is nice, but not necessary for most people. A 15-inch laptop screen can improve your workflow, but I remedied my small screen by using a monitor.
Let’s be real here: music production is expensive. Considering the cost of your DAW, audio interface, studio monitors, headphones, MIDI controllers, condenser mic, instruments… yeah. It adds up. In a perfect world, I could recommend a spec’d out Macbook Pro and call that an article, but with so many different components open to you, most of which being expensive, considering the cost of how much you are comfortable spending on your production set up, and then figuring out how much of that will go to your laptop or computer, is key. Your laptop will likely be the most important and most expensive element to your production set up, so be comfortable spending a significant portion of your budget on the laptop.
Your DAW is also important to spend money on, and once you have both, you will be able to start making music. We also think that Apple’s exclusive Logix X Pro – which is a paid upgrade on Mac’s stock Garageband – is a solid DAW that can be much cheaper than the more extensive versions of comparable DAW’s like Ableton.
Some Popular Laptops for Recording Audio
There are a lot of laptops on the market for a wide range of uses. For an unbiased guide for the best laptops, Rank-it has compiled a list here. The following are some of the best options for home studio uses.
Macbook Air 2020
For a breakdown of the best Macbooks in 2021, check out this helpful guide here.
Macs are made with creatives in mind. They run whatever software you need to run smoothly, without crashes, and can be reliable when you need them most. Seriously – the next time you go to a hip hop show, a DJ set, or an electronic music performance, check out what laptops the musicians are using – there is more than a 50% chance it will be a MacBook of some sort.
All modern Macbooks will feature specs that will make them appropriate for music production software: powerful, multi-core processors, 256 SSD storage or higher, and at minimum 8GB of Unified Memory – which is very similar to RAM, but shared across the entire system, so it is more efficient.
Apple has introduced their own processor to MacBooks post-2020, the M1. While not currently fully optimized, already the 8-core M1 has impressed many, however some have had issues with high CPU usage in programs like Ableton when using plug-ins from companies like Native Instruments. Logic X seems to run extremely well on this system. Whether or not the M1 chip is currently better than other chips available in Macs is a topic of debate, but Apple is updating the M1 chip and its performance keeps getting better.
However, one thing worth noting is this Macbook Air features only two Thunderbolt connections and can only handle one external monitor. This is a limited amount of connections and might be too minimal for some people.
Macbook Pro 2020 16-inch
Like the Macbook Air previously, this is a powerful machine that should have strong results in a wide range of programs. What is the central difference between this MacBook Pro and the aforementioned Air? This Macbook Pro features the highly regarded Intel i9 chip, as well as features a few other slight differences that might be more optimal for your ideal set up.
This Macbook Pro has an impressive list of specs that make it an excellent laptop for any home studio needs: an 8-core i9 processor, 64GB of DDR4, which is an absolutely powerful amount of RAM, and up to 8TB of storage space. This provides a lot of computational power, no matter what you throw at it.
With an 8-core i9 processor, you are getting more of a known quality. The M1 chip is still being updated, and while each update sees improvements, currently there is no consensus of one over the other in terms of music production.
You also get 4 Lightning USB-C ports for connectivity, which allow for plenty of connectivity options, however like the MacBook Air, you need to have an adapter to use older equipment that attaches via USB-A.
However, this Macbook Pro is on the expensive end of laptops, even for a Mac. Many will not need all the specs this Macbook has. Finally, this unit can get hot when in use, and the whirring fan can cause ambient noise that your mic might pick up. For die hard electronic producers, this might be the best choice, but really, any Mac can be a powerhouse at running software like DAWs.
Buy Macbook Pro 2020
Lenovo IdeaPad Flex 5
If you are looking for a Laptop that has all of the right specs without such a high price tag, there are a wide range of laptops with the right specs for the job. One such example is the Lenovo IdeaPad Flex 5, which can save you hundreds of dollars over a similar Macbook.
The Lenovo IdeaPad Flex 5 is one of the better suited Lenovo laptops at a price that we think is worthwhile. While the Graphite Grey and Platinum Grey versions do have slightly different specs, either should work: 8-core and 4-core AMD Ryzen processors respectively, 8 GB of DDR4 for your RAM needs across both models, and 512 GB and 256 GB SSD Hard drive space respectively make both solid models for your home studio.
Windows computers do have some issues with audio naturally, resulting in lagged playback and recording if using only the default Windows audio. The solution to this is using external audio interfaces with ASIO drivers – like those from FocusRite or Zoom – which improve the capability of lagless audio.
Other factors that may contribute to your choice to go with the IdeaPad is its strong battery life and solid screen size with touchscreen and a 360-degree hinge.