We’re going to take a look at the best desktop computers for music production and recording. We have a separate article specifically highlighting the best laptops for music production if you want something portable.
Did you know that processing audio is one of the most CPU-intensive tasks that people do on computers today?
When processing audio, most signal and effect chains have to happen sequentially. Basically what that means is that you want a processor (CPU) with fast single core performance. DAWs still take advance of multiple cores (i.e. Intel Quad Core) though. 8th generation Intel i7 processors are the best, but 7th gen versions aren’t far behind.
As for RAM, don’t go less than 8GB. I highly recommend getting configurations with at least 16GB though.
For the most part, these will be Windows-based PC’s, but there will be a couple great options from Apple.
Keep in mind that the better the specs you get now, the longer your computer will last. Think of getting a desktop or all-in-one computer as an investment.
All-In-One Desktop Computers
All-In-One computers look great and save space, but the downside is that they tend to use laptop-like components to save space and keep heat production down.
If I was getting a new Apple computer for music production in 2021, I would get the 5K 27″ iMac.
Because they made the RAM easily upgradeable on the 5K model (it will take 2 minutes – it’s like plugging in a power cord), I would get the lower 8GB configuration and purchase this 16GB or 32GB RAM kit separately.
In fact, if you look at the “frequently bought together” section on Amazon, you will see that is exactly what a lot of people do – and that’s what I just did as well a few months ago too!
You get plenty of I/O with 2 Thunderbolt 3 ports (USB C), 4 USB 3.0 ports, SD Card Reader, Wi-FI, and a headphone jack.
The screen is amazing and buying a similar quality option separately would cost you around $1,000… just for the monitor. Highly recommended.
HP ENVY All-in-One Computer
These computers are killer deals and have the perfect specs for audio production.
The touchscreen has an IPS display for great viewing angles. You get 4 USB 3.0 ports, HDMI in and out, Thunderbolt 3, Ethernet, Wi-FI, Bluetooth 4.2, an SD card reader, and a headphone jack. There is also a GeForce GTX 950M graphics card with 4GB VRAM.
You can also upgrade to a 256GB SSD version.
What is there not to like for around $1500?
Want a bigger screen? This thing is awesome. I think the 34″ model with i7-7700T, AMD Radeon RX 460, 16GB DDR RAM, 256GB SSD, and 1TB HDD is plenty, but you can always get this version with 32GB RAM as well.
Note that this version doesn’t have a touchscreen, but it is extremely quiet (a huge plus for music production and recording) and will give you plenty of desktop space to work.
The ports on the 34″ model are the same as the 27″: There is HDMI in and out, 4 USB 3.0, 1 USB-C Thunderbolt 3, Gigabit Ethernet, 3-in-1 card reader, and headphone/mic combo jack.
Dell XPS AIO
The Dell XPS 7760 has a 27″ touchscreen 4K monitor, Intel i7-7700K CPU, 16GB DDR4 RAM, 512GB SSD, and an AMD Radeon RX 570 w/ 8GB GDDR5 memory. These are desktop-class components, not mobile versions.
It has 4x USB 3.0 ports, 2x USB 3.1 Type-C, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, an HDMI port, and a card reader. You can see the impressive speaker lineup built-in, but you will likely have your own studio monitors, so not sure those add a lot of value.
Either way, this computer is well-equipped and looks gorgeous, but at a cost.
There are tons of choices for “tower” PCs for your audio recording and editing studio. I’m just going to highlight a selection of well-known brands with specs that will perform well at a reasonable price. The benefit of tower computers is that you tend to get the best performance for the price.
These usually don’t come with a monitor so you will need to keep that in mind when choosing one.
Dell XPS 8920
For around $1,300, the Dell XPS 8930 has everything you’ll need to run your favorite DAW at full speed:
- Intel i7-8700 CPU (8th Gen)
- 16GB DDR4 RAM
- NVIDIA GTX 1050Ti
- 256GB SSD + 2TB HDD
For connectivity, you get 7 USB 3.0 ports, USB 3.1 port, 2 USB 2.0 ports, HDMI, Ethernet, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, DVD Burner, and a card reader. Plenty for your USB Interface (and anything else).
This tower is is what I’d call a “sleeper” – it looks plain from the outside, but it has some impressive hardware on the inside!
Don’t forget to grab a monitor too.
HP Envy 750
Priced a little higher, but with awesome specs, the HP Envy 750 comes with an i7-7700 3.4GHz CPU, NVidia GeForce GTX 1060 (3GB GDDR5 VRAM), 16GB DDR4 RAM, and a 1 TB 7200 RPM HDD + 256GB SSD. This is a killer setup – and is excellent for audio editing.
I/O includes 4x USB 3.0, 1x USB 3.1 Type-C, DVI, HDMI, 3x DisplayPort, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.2, 7-in-1 Card Reader, and DVD Burner. Comes with Windows 10 Home. This should be plenty to hook up a mixer and anything else you might need.
We’re going to go up a level here with a recommendation from SkyTech Omega. What I love about this configuration is that it is liquid-cooled, which keeps fans from running full speed and interrupting your recordings.
Specs include Intel i7-8700K 6-Core processor, 16GB DDR4 RAM, 250GB SSD, 2TB HDD, and the NVidia GTX 1080 GPU with 8GB RAM!
Just perfect if you ask me. The 2 hard drive combo is the ideal for quick tasks and lots of storage for plugins, samples, and tracks. If you’re into gaming (since that’s the main target audience for this PC) as well, take a look at these gaming microphones too.
You’ll get 4x USB 3.0 ports, 2x USB 2.0, Ethernet, and WiFi.
Apple iMac Pro
The iMac Pro isn’t cheap, but when you consider you get a top of the line 5K monitor included with the package, it doesn’t seem so bad.
Base model specs include: 3.2GHz 8-core Intel Xeon W processor, 32GB RAM, 1TB SSD, and a Radeon Pro Vega 56 GPU.
A friend of mine got one right after they came out and loves it. Just make sure you get all the Space Gray accessories when you first purchase it – Apple doesn’t sell them separately.
Build Your Own
March 2018 Update: Changed CPU & Motherboard to 8th Gen Intel (fastest single-thread performance today)
For those that would like to build a custom computer, I thought I would throw in a recommendation on what I would get as of March 2018. I’ve built 5 or 6 computers for friends and myself over the years, and find it kind of fun to put together.
Like I mentioned up top, you will want to skew your budget toward CPU power (if you have to) when custom-building a computer for music production.
- CPU + Liquid Cooler: Intel i7-8700K (8th Gen) & Corsair Hydro H100i v2 (non “K” model is $50 cheaper)
- Motherboard (LGA 1151 for 8th Gen): Asus ROG Strix Z370-E
- GPU: Gigabyte GeForce GTX 1060 3GB
- RAM: Corsair Vengeance LPX 16GB DDR4 2400MHz (Black)
- SSD: Samsung 850 EVO 250GB or Samsung 960 EVO 250GB PCIe NVMe SSD
- HDD: Seagate 2TB BarraCuda 7200 rpm
- PSU (Power Supply): EVGA SuperNOVA 650 G1
- Case: Corsair Carbide Series 330R Blackout Edition Ultra-Silent
- Monitor: 27″ ASUS VE278H
You can easily get away with a less powerful graphics card (GPU) here to save a little – and you can always add more hard drives over time as you need them. The motherboard comes with Wi-Fi so you should be covered there as well.
Let me know what you think!