Updated with new models released June, 2017.
So you want to get serious about music production or podcasting? You’ll need a good computer that can handle everything you throw at it.
There is a good chance you’ll have lots of programs and tabs open at the same time and you will need the ability to add at least 1 extra screen (many people use 2 or 3). These usage requirements use a lot of RAM and graphic power, respectively. Most important for audio processing is a CPU with fast single core performance. This will allow you to get your mixes into a single file much quicker and process effects and chains without the CPU needing to wait, among many other benefits. 7th generation Intel i7 processors are the best, followed by Intel i5.
We’re just going to focus on the best laptops for music production. There are many more options for desktop and all-in-one computers that work well for audio recording and podcast recording, but the flexibility and portability of a laptop makes it a must-have.
The other big thing to consider is Apple vs Windows (Mac vs PC). This choice usually comes down to what recording software (DAW) you are going to use and what you are used to using. Personally, I’m an Apple fan, but I started with Windows – and I use both of them daily. The Mac operating system is usually more stable, which can be critical when recording, although there are tons of big name producers who swear by both systems.
If you want to use Logic Pro, it’s made by Apple and only works their computers. If you want to use GarageBand (a great choice for podcast production), it’s included free with Apple computers. Avid Pro Tools is another very popular industry leading software that works on both systems.
Many of these popular tools have minimum requirements and recommended requirements. Performance will be much better if you get a laptop with at least the recommended requirements so I’m just going to recommend music production laptops that meet or exceed the recommended specs.
You usually will have a much longer lifespan if you get a computer toward the higher end of the spec list because it won’t be outdated as quickly, which means over time it will actually cost you less. Just something to consider.
Let’s start my favorite laptop from Apple:
Apple Macbook Pro
There’s a 13″ and a 15″ model (well, 13.3″ and 15.4″ to be exact). If you’re working on a plane a lot the 13-inch option is perfect, but that’s not most people. I would recommend getting the latest 15″ Macbook Pro with Touchbar.
With 16GB of RAM, a 2.8GHz quad-core Intel i7 processor (Kaby Lake) and a 256GB (or 512GB) solid-state hard drive you’ll be set for years. As of mid-2017, this is the best MacBook Pro for music production. I would stick with the 256GB SSD and expand with an external hard drive later as needed unless you know you’ll need the extra space. It also comes with a Radeon Pro 555 with 2GB video RAM. The 512GB SSD version comes with the Radeon Pro 560 with 4GB VRAM.
It comes with 4 USB-C ports so you will need to get adapters or a dock. USB Type-C is a different port from traditional USB 2.0 and USB 3.0 ports.
Stay away from regular Macbooks (the non “Pro” models). They basically use a similar processor to a phone, meaning they’re designed for battery life over speed.
Microsoft Surface Pro
Microsoft has come a long way their Surface Pro line. They recently dropped the numbered naming scheme so instead of the Surface Pro 5, it’s just Surface Pro. They offer a few great configurations that would work well for music production. I recommend the Surface Pro with an Intel i7, 16GB RAM, and a 512GB SSD. If you want to stay under $1,000, the Intel Core i5 with 4GB RAM is an excellent lower-budget option. It comes with a MicroSD slot too. You can get one direct from Microsoft here.
The screen size on these is 12.3″ which can a little small, but most people get an external monitor or 2 anyway. Just know that these don’t come with a keyboard – and you’ll likely need to get the Microsoft Surface Dock to give you more ports.
‘ROG’ stands for Republic of Gamers and is the gaming line of products from Asus. This means these computers are great for nearly any performance intensive task.
Into gaming? Check out the best gaming microphones.
Both of these laptops come with a ton of ports so you won’t need to spend extra on accessories just to plug your mixers or USB microphones into them. They both also come with a combo 256GB SSD + 1TB HDD so you get the benefit of a really fast solid state drive combined with the capacity of a traditional spinning hard drive.
I’m recommending the 15″ models as that gives you a nice balance of screen real estate and portability for a laptop.
Asus ROG Strix GL553VE
I know this is a “gaming” laptop, but that just means it’s fast and will work great. The Asus ROG Strix GL553VE is the perfect laptop for your music recording and mixing needs. It comes with a NVIDIA GTX 1050Ti graphics card, Intel i7 and 16GB RAM.
Comes with 1x USB 2.0 Port, 2x USB 3.0 ports and 1x USB-C port.
Asus ROG Strix GL502VS-DB71
The ASUS ROG Strix GL502VS-DB71 is similar to above but uses an upgraded NVIDIA GTX 1070 graphics card. Many software programs, including most DAWs, make use of the graphic card, which frees up the CPU to do its thing. Also, when you start plugging in 2 or 3 external monitors, you’ll definitely need the extra GPU power.
This version also includes improved cooling, which can keep your computer quieter. This is great as you don’t want to be picking up fan noise when recording.
Comes with 3x USB 3.0 ports and 1x USB Type-C port.
The Dell XPS line of laptops has been an excellent choice for a while now. It’s the thinnest 15″ PC laptop around but doesn’t sacrifice performance. The latest version – Dell XPS 9560 – includes Intel’s brand new Kaby Lake processor and a beautiful 4K touchscreen with Gorilla Glass for scratch resistance.
I recommend the XPS9560-7001SLV-PUS model with the 7th generation Intel i7-7700HQ, 16GB RAM, and a 512GB SSD. You’ll also get Nvidia GTX 1050 graphics card.
It comes with an SD card reader and 2 USB 3.0 ports.
HP Spectre X360
The HP Spectre X360 is beautiful, versatile and powerful. I recommend the 15″ model updated in 2017 with the 7th generation Kaby Lake Intel i7, 16GB RAM, 512GB SSD, and a Nvidia 940MX graphics card.
This is a “2-in-1″ laptop, meaning that the 4K touchscreen folds backward, effectively making it a tablet. The 15” model is a little under 4.5 lbs, which is a bit heavy to hold one-handed in tablet mode, but great for sharing things or writing. There is also a media mode for watching videos and a tent mode for presentations.
HP was smart by including both a USB Type-A port (the stand rectangle) and 2x USB Type-C ports (the new oval), one of which includes Thunderbolt. They also include an SD Card reader and an HDMI port so you shouldn’t need a bunch of dongles to all your gear connected.
If you want something a little lighter and more portable, there is a new 13″ model that weighs 2.86 lbs. With the 2017 update, you can now get 16GB RAM and it comes with the same Nvidia 940MX, a huge upgrade over the previous generation. You do lose the HDMI port with this size though, although an adapter will easily solve that.
They don’t include the best graphics card of the bunch, but the versatility and reasonable price point make both sizes of the Spectre X360 an excellent choice for a Windows-based music production laptop.
Samsung Notebook 9 Pro
Here’s another 2-in-1 laptop by Samsung. The Pro model was just announced at Computex earlier this year. The 15″ Notebook 9 Pro has been updated with Intel’s latest Kaby Lake processors as well and offers decent specs for the price.
Samsung has taken cues from their smartphone line when it comes to design, with thin bezels and more curvature. It comes with an S-Pen (and a slot to hold it) that has 4,000 levels of pressure and the ability to add shading by tilting it.
Similar to the Spectre above, you get both USB 3.0 and USB Type-C, an HDMI port, and an SD Card reader. The 13″ model only comes with 8GB RAM, while the 15″ model gets 16GB. Graphics power is also a lot better in the 15″ model with the AMD Radeon 450 vs Intel HD Graphics 620 in the 13″ version. Because of that, I would stay away from the smaller one for serious music producers.
PCAudioLabs specializes in computer equipment for audio production. Their ROK BOX MC Mobile Series line of pro audio laptops lets you custom build a laptop that will fit your production needs and budget.
There are many great choices for music production laptops. I would suggest getting the best computer you can for your budget, but try to stay away from “cheap” options – and definitely avoid Chromebooks. You will just run into limitations and issues that take the fun out of your hobby or profession!
Let me know in the comments if you have any questions or if I’m missing anything.