MacBook Pro: The Best Laptop for Audio Production

0Share

Musicians, podcasters, and other audio professionals need a laptop for all types of workflows. Whether it is jotting down notes for your next project, recording some music memos for a song idea, or even recording and editing an entire podcast, you will need a machine that is powerful and reliable. Enter the 14" and 16" MacBook Pros with M1 Pro and M1 Max chips. The computers bring a host of upgrades and a hard-to-believe boost to performance that will make all audio pros happy.

B&H Recommends…

Apple 16.2" MacBook Pro with M1 Max Chip
Apple 16.2" MacBook Pro with M1 Max Chip
  • 16" MacBook Pro with M1 Pro
  • M1 Pro 10-Core CPU
  • 16-Core GPU
  • 32GB Unified Memory
  • 1TB SSD (Minimum)

One thing to know about the newest M1 chips is that they share the same CPU. Both the Pro and Max have a 10-core processor with eight performance cores and two efficiency cores. You do, at least, want the full-fledged CPU, so if you are going M1 Pro make sure you get the 10-core version. For audio work that is mostly processor intensive, you won’t see any benefit from moving up to the Max—unless you want to max out on memory.

A Power Boost for Your Plug-Ins

The first pro chips for Mac are making a name for themselves with the M1 Pro and M1 Max, although a great deal of the flashiest stuff is for video and graphics work. For processor-intensive apps, like your favorite DAW, soft-synths, and third-party processing plug-ins, there are some solid improvements. The M1 Pro and M1 Max share the same CPU with 10 cores (8 performance and 2 efficiency). That’s double the performance cores of the original M1, which can help you run more instances of plug-ins or virtual instruments before the need to freeze tracks. With properly optimized software, you will notice the change. Projects with a ton of tracks and effects will not be sluggish if they are even sluggish at all anymore.

If you are shopping, though, CPU is key. The base 14" comes with a different take on the CPU with only 8 total core (6 performance and 2 efficiency). While I wouldn’t say to stay clear of it, the bump up is worth it.

The other parts of the equation are faster (and more) memory and an ultra-fast SSD. Both will make loading up files and playback an instantaneous process, an important consideration if your go-to samplers have dense sample libraries. Sample libraries will load noticeably quicker and loading times for these types of plug-ins should be a thing of the past.

All these changes together allow the new M1 chips to provide a real, noticeable improvement over older laptops.

One note of which many audio professionals are likely already aware is software and hardware compatibility. With your interface, DAW, and a collection of favorite plug-ins you will want to ensure compatibility before you upgrade. Apple silicon requires either native programming support or to be confirmed to be bug free while running in Rosetta 2. While most major interface companies, DAWs, processor plug-ins, and virtual instruments have rolled out support for Apple silicon, our advice is always checking your go-tos to see if they support these chips.

If your software or plug-ins aren’t supported, you will have to consider that as you decide on your next laptop. The new MacBooks are both new Apple silicon and run the latest version of macOS. It’s dangerous to upgrade sometimes, and nothing can be more frustrating than buying a new laptop and not being able to run your favorite synth or compressor. Don’t fall victim to the dangers.

However, if your DAW has been optimized to run natively on Apple Silicon, such as Apple’s own Logic Pro, you should see huge gains in performance. Continuing with the Logic example, you can run up to 3x more Amp Designer plug-ins (a notorious processor hog) compared to the base M1—and this applies to all versions of the M1 Pro and Max in both the 14" and 16" models. Other software should see their own bump in performance, allowing engineers to run more tracks with more effects with smooth operations.

Touching on the chip design, the new architecture is incredibly efficient, which leads to longer battery life. Stated specs by Apple put the 14" model at 17 hours and the 16" at an insane 21 hours. That’s a lot. Realistically, you won’t be getting those exact figures, but it should blow your old laptop away. With mixed use, an entire workday should be no problem. Even when running your pro apps for long stretches of time, you should be seeing hours more time before you need to plug in.

All the Ports!

After a few years of saying USB-C is all you need (and the survival of the 3.5mm jack), Apple seems to have conceded a bit to bring back some key ports. On the audio front there is a small but very nice change to the 3.5mm jack—it now supports high-impedance headphones. You still might not want to throw out your DAC for mission-critical work but, if you have a favorite pair of cans, you don’t have to carry that extra bit of equipment every day.

Otherwise, the other ports are nice. For those using field recorders, the SD card slot will be appreciated for eliminating another extra item from your bag. Then you have an HDMI for hooking up an external display or TV and three Thunderbolt™ 4/USB4 ports. Good, solid selection. No USB Type-A ports made the jump, meaning those adapters might still hang around for your older gear.

Last, but certainly not least, is the upgraded MagSafe 3 port. It’s just like before, but stronger and faster. In terms of strength, it is very secure with strong magnets. I would say maybe too strong. Pulling the cable will drag the computer around. However, a quick kick test did show it does the MagSafe thing and popped off before any danger came to the MacBook. MagSafe is the fastest way to charge, as well getting your MacBook up to 50% in just 30 minutes. If you are sticking to an older USB-C charger, anyway, you can still juice up using any of the USB-C ports.

Notable Design Changes

Upon picking up the MacBook Pro for the first time, you will notice the extra heft. It’s thicker and heavier. It also just feels better. Apple certainly let down its guard and moved away from the trend to make things smaller and smaller to allow the “pro” side of the machine truly to shine.

A big part of this new design is improved thermals. It requires a great deal of sustained work to get the MacBook Pro to kick on the fans audibly. The new chip’s efficiency and better thermal management is to thank for that. If you are getting burned by your current laptop, the new MacBooks solve that problem.

After you open the laptop, you will get to see the new screen, and it’s beautiful. The new mini-LED tech is noticeable, with dramatic blacks and great contrast. It’s great for checking out HDR videos, whether that is just on YouTube or movies in your library. Most of the time, however, you won’t be seeing the screen operate at its full potential. In that case, you are still getting a very, very good display with excellent contrast. If you also use your laptop for consuming content when you aren’t working, you’ll be pleased.

The screens are a bit bigger with the jump from 13" to 14" being a bit nicer for the compact model and the 16" getting only a slight bump from its direct predecessor. Although, if you are coming from an older 15" MacBook, the bigger canvas is great and doesn’t come in a larger overall package, since the bezel is basically gone on the new version. For keeping track of your plug-ins and checking all the graphical interfaces, the bigger screen will be helpful.

That notch, yeah, the MacBook now has a notch, hosts an upgraded 1080p webcam. There are also slightly better mics. This should make your video calls a little bit clearer—at least to all the people with whom you are speaking. It does mean that in rare scenarios, in which the worst happens, you could also fall back on them for a recording or two, but I doubt they are up to regular studio standards.

Once thing you may hear about is the new speaker system. It uses an array of six speakers to create a richer experience. There’s even spatial audio support if you like that kind of thing. With the latest version of Logic Pro rolling out Dolby Atmos mixing options (falling in lockstep with more and more albums on Apple Music getting this mix treatment), you’d be hard pressed not to play around with spatial mixing, regardless of your opinion on the format.

Objectively, the new speakers are among the best I’ve heard from a laptop and, for something like a first pass on a podcast episode or when you are simply reviewing and cataloging your recordings for a project, they might just be good enough. Once you get to the good stuff, you will probably want to go back to your reliable headphones or plug into some monitors if you can.

The last great change on the list is the keyboard. It is reverting to a classic scissor-switch layout that is far superior to the butterfly keyboards we dealt with for years. Also, the Touch Bar has vanished and has been replaced with a full-size row of function keys—plus Touch ID. It’s a welcome change. As for the trackpad, it’s as big and nice as ever.

It’s hard to say the MacBook Pro isn’t an appealing option for audio pros. While the headlines clearly appeal to the videographer, it’s still a beast for producers and engineers. The performance gains alone could be enough to consider updating your equipment and workflow to take full advantage of all the improvements.

What are your impressions? Share them with us in the Comments section, below. To read more about the new MacBook Pro laptops, click here.

Close

Close

Close