Can you possibly imagine? It wasn’t that long ago that computers were the size of a small house. And took a long time to process information, and even then, it was on a limited scale. And now what? We have dozens of times more computer power on our desk than Neil and Buzz took to the Moon, and we can even carry it around in our pockets and on our phones.
And what about recording studios? Hours of set up time. Instruments had to be played ‘live’ by real people, Tape machines, limited editing, and effects. But then, of course, we did have ‘real’ analog, so it wasn’t all bad. It’s amazing to think how far technology has come in 50 years?
Now we have all the computer power we need on the desk in front of us, and we can even carry some of it around in our pockets. And recording studios are digital, and we can make any sound we want from a box. Fortunately, it still needs a human to push a few buttons and hammer a few chords. At the moment…
Laptops that make music. Software that is a portable recording studio. The technology is here. You do need some computery things to make it all work. Like quite a big processor and at least 4GB of RAM. Some decent internal storage maybe 256GB and a 64-bit OS. A decent size screen wouldn’t hurt either. But that’s nothing considering what you needed to record even a simple demo 20 years ago.
So, in this review, we’ll be looking at the best Laptops for Music Production, and helping you find the perfect one for your music-making needs…
- Top 10 Best Laptops For Music Production To Buy 2020 Reviews
- Best Laptops For Music Production Buyers Guide – Let’s Make Some Music…
- So, What Are The Best Laptops For Music Production?
Top 10 Best Laptops For Music Production To Buy 2020 Reviews
1 Apple MacBook Pro
When a conversation turns to making music on a Laptop, then inevitably, Apple will be involved somewhere before too many words are spoken. It is recognized by many people as the industry standard for recording your music on a laptop. And the Apple MacBook Pro is one of those leading the field.
To start with, it has a built-in standard feature, a software package named Garageband. Now, this in itself is a powerful piece of software and would it be possible to spend the rest of this review extolling the virtues of this excellent recording package. Basically, it is a scaled-down version of Logic Pro, which is a professional standard DAW.
Many of the features in Garageband are the same, and it is possible to produce pro-level quality from your recordings. Logic itself can be downloaded to the computer, providing you have the memory available, but you will have to pay for it. This makes a powerful selling point for buying Apple when you are thinking about a laptop that will record your music. But of course, it isn’t the only reason.
We are not going to get into what seems a perennial argument about what is best, the Mac, or a PC. It is purely personal preference. With this Apple model, you get what you need to get going. It has Core audio, a big enough RAM, and enough processing power and a fast SSD drive.
The Retina display is outstanding, and it has astonishing graphics courtesy of Intel Iris 640. The 2.3 GHz Intel processor is state of the art. And two USB-C ports are included.
What you get with this Apple is a machine that is ready to use from the moment you turn it on. It has a great performance level and reliability, and if you need to run it on its battery that will give you about 10 hours of use.
We have heard people say, if you want to record at home, why use anything else? It is hard to argue with them. The only issue, they do not come cheap — clearly a contender for best Laptops for music production.
- Apple reliability and performance.
- Garageband built-in.
- Engineered specifically for high volume tasks such as recording sound and editing video.
- A bit short on the number of ports and screen size is small for DAW use.
2 Microsoft Surface Pro 6
Surface Pro 6 from Microsoft is a great machine with some excellent features. The graphics and visuals are good, and it has excellent battery life, over thirteen hours of use. Fitted with the new generation of Intel Core processors, it has a lot of processing power. It is also light and portable.
Microsoft and Windows the most widely used computers and operating system on the planet, and they are never short of new innovations, most of which are an improvement on previous models. Surface Pro 6 has been designed to suit a variety of practical user applications. Laptop mode is self-explanatory, but you can also convert it into an instant tablet by closing the kickstand. Or in-studio mode for use as a drawing aid using the surface pen.
All very impressive and with traditional Microsoft/Windows reliability an excellent computer. However, we are specifically assessing its suitability and, indeed, the capability to be used for music production.
It has most of the ingredients. It has a speedy processor and enough RAM, but it is a little light on the number of ports. However, there are two issues. The first is the screen size. DAW software does mean that you need access to a reasonable size screen. There is often a lot of information to look at and respond to, and a twelve-inch screen is not the best.
The second is that whereas Apple produces its own DAWs – Garageband and Logic Pro, Microsoft hasn’t got one. We understand they are working on that, but it certainly isn’t in this machine. You, therefore, have to go and get one which will be a cost to add to the cost of the computer, There are some good DAW’s that will fit Windows – Ableton, Cubase, etc., but they are not installed ready to use out of the box, which can lead to problems.
Powerful machine with good features, but you will need a DAW.
- Very good operational specs.
- Multi-purpose computer.
- No installed DAW software.
3 Dell XPS 13 9360
Some laptops that are made in China have a reputation for a flimsy build, but not so with this Dell machine. It feels strong and sturdy in the hands, yet it is also very slim in its build and not bulky.
The Dell XPS series is not a new design, and in fact, it has been around a while now. But it still looks as good as it did when it first arrived. The screen size is rather small for music production at 13 inches. The 128 GB SSD hard drive is an important feature if you are making music, but the 8Gb RAM is only just acceptable. The processor is a 2.5 GHz Intel i5.
One of the problems you face when making music on your computer is memory space. It is not a case of if you will run out of space, but when so, having an SSD hard drive is important, but so is the RAM. Most laptops these days do not allow you to increase the size of the RAM easily.
Windows Ten is installed as standard, so when choosing your DAW, you will need to ensure that the package is compatible. The screen though rather small has good high-resolution graphics, which is an important element.
The keyboard is nicely designed, and the strike of the keys positive and smooth. A good design feature of this laptop is that you are given plenty of connectivity to external sources using USB through to Thunderbolt.
However, there might be issues with latency with this machine, depending on which DAW you are using. So you are advised to be aware of issues other users have experienced.
At the price point, it is not the cheapest of laptops. But that may be due to the quality of components used and the general quality of the build, which is very good. For music production, you will have to add a Digital workstation.
- Very attractive style.
- 128 Gb SSD hard drive.
- Quite expensive
4 Asus ROG Strix Thin and Light Gaming Laptop
The Asus ROG laptop has been designed with gaming in mind. So you may well be asking why it is included in this list when we are supposed to be looking at computers for music production. It confused us as well at first, but then you start to look at the spec and the power of this laptop, and you realize it has all the qualities needed to make a good laptop for music production.
The latest Intel-Core i7 processor is installed that will certainly be able to handle the installation and running of a quality Digital Workstation. Other criteria are just as impressive with its 256Gb SSD hard drive and 16Gb of RAM. It also boasts a massive one terabyte HDD.
The graphics, as you would expect, work excellently, and it has a powerful graphics card. It is running Windows 10, so care will be needed to ensure compatibility with your a DAW. It also has plenty of ports for connectivity. But the battery life lets it down a bit at about 9 hours.
There is a downside to all this power and facility. It is designed and built very much for the gaming market. Therefore the actual quality of the build is not that high, and it looks exactly what it is supposed to look like. A gaming machine – and has lots of the cheaper varieties of plastic and flashing lights and illuminations.
There may also be some odd little things that happen with too much keyboard usage as these machines are made for other information sources and command instructions rather than a keyboard.
Not the cheapest option you will find. But if you can run with the Las Vegas-style light show, it has a lot of power for music production.
- Powerful machine with good memory and SSD.
- Plenty of ports for connections.
- Built to be a gaming machine.
5 Alienware M15 Gaming Laptop
Made by Dell Computers, this is another computer designed for gaming and kitted out for that option. In designing and building in some positive technical requirements to satisfy the requirements of gamers, they also, to a certain extent, satisfy the requirements for producing music.
It certainly is well-built with some durable materials and high-end manufacturing materials. The use of magnesium alloy ensures a toughness in the build, but also that it remains lightweight.
But rather than discuss this as a multi-purpose machine and what is good about the build or the look, let’s concentrate on how good it will be for music production.
It has a powerful processor with the i7 Intel Core, and it also carries Nvidia graphics and 16GB of memory. And features a 512GB hard disk, which is not the best for music production. It comes with a 15-inch screen and runs Windows, which means if you do plan to use it for music production, then you will need a Digital Workstation. It has three 3.0 USB ports, which should be just about adequate.
We have to make the point at this stage that just because a computer is loaded with fast processing speed and a lot of RAM does not automatically make it suitable for the production of music. On this machine, the graphic effects are stunning, but do you need such excellence for recording or looking at a DAW screen? We don’t think so.
There is no doubt that this is a great machine for gamers, but we think not so good for music production. They are different disciplines with different requirements.
Rather expensive and for the price, there are some cheaper and more suitable options.
- Great graphics.
- Powerful processor and very well-built.
- Very expensive for what it offers in music production.
6 HP 2020 Spectre Touch
Hewlett Packard, of course, is a well-known computer manufacturing company. Initially set up in 1939 in California, it reached its height of computing activity during the 60s and early part of the 70s. But gradually declined as they couldn’t keep pace firstly with the muscle of IBM and then with the multitude of PC manufacturers that suddenly emerged.
The company of Hewlett Packard ceased in 2015. But part of the business carried on as HP, producing smaller computers and peripherals.
The Spectre is a good example of where they are now, having streamlined their operation, they can produce a quality machine like this. The X360 is a well-made laptop that also doubles up as a tablet. The battery life with constant use is about eight hours, but that, of course, would extend if there were periods of inactivity.
Lots of power has been provided via the Intel Core i7 processor running at a speed of 1.8GHz. The memory size may be a little limiting in that it is only 8Gb, but it has an SSD drive with 256GB.
The display size is good at 16.6 inches, the graphics excellent, and it has touch-screen facilities. It operates on Windows 10, so there is no DAW software installed for music production. Having said that, all but one of the major requirements for producing music is onboard. Though as we said, the 8GB memory size is a little small.
If there is a negative with this machine other than the need to acquire a DAW, it is that there is only one USB 3.0 port, and there are another two USB C’s and a Thunderbolt port on the other side. If you were to use this machine for music production, then depending on your system, you might need to buy some extra USB hubs.
Quite a nice machine at a reasonable price. But you will need some extras to use it for music production, which is going to push the price up a little.
- Good SSD and processing speeds.
- Well made with a nice design.
- Some extra investment required to make it practical for music production.
7 Samsung Notebook 9
Slim design and a cost-effective price are the big talking points with the Samsung Notebook 9. The design, while being slim, is also attractive with its curved edges on both keyboard and the lid. Being made from an all-metal construction, it is durable.
The keyboard itself is well-designed with space between the keys and a comfortable feeling to it. If you want a laptop that is thin and lightweight, this will interest you. And on first look, it seems even thinner than the Macbook Air.
The 15-inch screen is bright with good visuals driven by Intel graphics. The i7 Intel processor with a 256GB Solid State Drive, which might be considered modest, and 8GB of RAM is fitted. This is where the machine becomes a bit lightweight because if you are using it for music production, it might struggle running larger sessions or with any large sample downloads. It is fitted with a USB-C port that will let you charge from a phone charger.
There is a full-screen rotation facility built-in, which is a useful feature if you want to show someone something on the screen who is opposite you. Such as a vocalist who is recording in the same room as you.
It has some connections as well with USB 3.0 ports, but there are only two of them which might be inhibitive, and an HDMI. It runs Windows 10, so there is no onboard DAW for music production, which means you will have to acquire something. There are plenty to choose from, but it could be an added expense. But at the basic cost of the computer, then maybe that is not something that might worry you.
A decent machine and at the price, good value. A little bit light on some issues for music production, though.
- Nice all-metal design that is lightweight.
- Excellent price point.
- Lacking in some areas for music production.
8 ASUS ZenBook Pro 15 Thin & Light Ultrabook Laptop
If like us, you are impressed by first impressions; then you cannot fail to be impressed with this machine. Beautifully designed in aluminum with an attractive design on the lid. It is slim and chic; it ticks all the boxes for appearance. ASUS is based in Taiwan and is often seen as rivals to Acer, but in fact, as far as we are concerned, it is a bit of a no-contest in terms of appearance.
There are, though, more important issues, and good looks are not going to give you a good performance when it comes to music production.
Has it got what it takes to be one of the best laptops for music production? It starts well with a 15.6-inch screen and an impressive wide-angle view of 180 degrees. Fitted with the latest touch display option, it runs Windows 10, which some will consider a negative. Windows is a good operating system, but it doesn’t have in its armory a dedicated DAW, so they are always going to be behind.
Let’s press on, Intel i7 Core processor giving 2.8 GHz, which is good, and memory of 512GB is more good news. The storage then is adequate, and the speed is good. It then moves into a higher level of application with 16GB of RAM. It is often said that to run a music production function, you will need at least 8GB but preferably 16GB. Another box ticked. Nvidia supplies the graphics, which are known to be quality providers.
Connections are also good with 2 USB 3.0’s and two USB type C and also having Thunderbolt. Usually, you can manage music production with that connectivity.
We think so. Forgetting the great appearance which is obviously superb, it has a solid base of technical power that will give you what you need. Just one thing missing a DAW, I suppose you can’t have everything, but it is not a cheap machine, and that could be added expense. However, it does have all the technical inclusions to be considered the best Laptop for music production.
- All the technical power it needs for music production
- Nice style and great build.
- DAW is needed.
9 Apple 13.3″ MacBook Air
If you are looking for a lightweight, portable laptop to carry around with you, then the MacBook Air may well be what you need. As always, the Apple designs are attractive but also functional. And the sleek lines of the machine enhance the feeling of its portability that also gives off an air of elegance.
Unfortunately, as we begin to look at it, we are disappointed to see just a 13-inch screen. Some may find that acceptable, but to our mind, for fast and efficient music production, you do need a certain sized screen. Maybe 15 inches is the bare minimum, or you cannot get all the information you need on the screen. And it means either scrolling around or staring intently at some rather small options.
A 1.8GHz Dual Core i5 processor that will generate 2.9GHz with the turbo boost and 8GB of RAM. The RAM size is also an issue for us because it might not be enough if your sessions contain a large number of tracks, or you are using large orchestral sound files. Already we see one or two potential problems with using this machine for music creation. It does, though, offer 512GB of storage space, which is probably initially enough, especially when combined with external hard disks.
No problems though with the number of ports provided. There are plenty to accommodate a MIDI controller and audio interface. Graphics are provided by Intel HD 6000, and it has Bluetooth 4.0 connectivity. Battery life is quite good at 12 hours, and at just three pounds, it is very lightweight.
One major plus is that it has Garageband installed, and so it is a case of turning it on and off you go.
For music production computers Apple are just ahead because they are built the way they are and have Garageband installed, even though this machine does fall down slightly in a few other areas.
- Garageband installed.
- Some good performance figures.
- The small screen is not going to help much.
10 Razer Blade Stealth 13.3
Razer does seem to be another computer manufacturer with a little bit of an identity crisis. They market this machine in one breath as a gaming machine, and then as an Ultrabook, but never as a music production laptop.
Whilst the requirements for it to be considered a gaming machine are important; they are often not the same as those required for handling a DAW. One example of that is the graphics. Gaming machines make sure that it is at the top of the priority list, but it is largely irrelevant to a music producer.
So, let’s take a look at the Razor Blade Stealth…
…to see if it fits the music production criteria? It is a sleek, attractive slimline machine and doesn’t look, unlike an Apple. Manufactured from aluminum, it is going to be robust yet attractive. The first thing we see is the screen, just 13 inches. In our view, that is just too small and will involve time-consuming screen searches to find what you are looking for.
The processor is the i7 Intel Quad Core offering 1,8GHz of power, which can be increased to 4.0GHz using the Turbo Boost option. It carries 16GB of RAM, which is enough for the music world. An SSD with 256GB of memory is also a plus point. The operating system is Windows 10, and it has a touchscreen facility.
It does seem to tick quite a few of the boxes for use as a music production machine, though the screen in our view is too small. We are aware that having a bigger screen means a bigger machine, which means extra weight and size for carrying around, but that is what music production software needs.
- Plenty of processing power.
- Nicely designed and well-built.
- 13-inch screen.
Best Laptops For Music Production Buyers Guide – Let’s Make Some Music…
We have to say we wonder a little bit about what Microsoft is thinking. We have always preferred Microsoft and Windows (apart from Windows 10), and they are our machine of choice. But as far as making music is concerned, they never even turned up to compete.
Since 2004 Garageband has been included on Apple computers, so where is the Microsoft equivalent. There isn’t one though we are told that they have one in production. 15 years too late! They preferred to let the customer go out and buy one. Perhaps it was too much trouble, or they just thought it wasn’t going to have a major impact.
So what is it you need built-in to a computer to use it effectively for music production? We touched on it earlier, but let’s just recap. Preferably a quad-core processor with 2GHz and at the minimum 4GB of RAM with a 64-bit operating system. Preferably an SSD with as a minimum 256GB of memory and really a 15-inch screen. Though that is the least important of the requirements and really a comfort issue when looking at the screen.
There are workarounds to most of these issues which can be used with any of the machines we’ve reviewed. Therefore if you were happy to spend more, any of them, in theory, would work well for music production. Regarding the processor, you’re basically stuck with what you buy, so buy the best you can.
The same is slightly true with RAM, it is upgradable on many machines, but it is not the easy process that we are used to when expanding desktop tower systems. It normally requires taking the laptop to a specialist, and the cost is not cheap. Therefore it’s best to get the most you can afford when you buy the laptop.
However, Hard Disc size for laptops is far easier to expand using external drives. And to be honest, you should be running your software on the internal drive, but the session on an external drive, it’s far more efficient. With the low cost of external drives, adding one or a few shouldn’t be an issue. So a smaller built-in 256GB HD or preferably SSD should not be an issue, although a 512GB would be preferable.
As for screen size, if this is an issue, most laptops allow you to connect an external screen via HDMI or mini display port. So if you want a larger screen, just plug one in. The same goes for keyboards and mice, they can also be connected via USB. This allows you to use your laptop as a laptop when traveling, but use it as the center of an expanded system when working in the studio, for example.
One Last Thing, You Will Need A DAW…
By that we mean, a Digital Audio Workstation. Plenty of them around, some good, some not so good. Some expensive others cheaper, but Apple has its Garageband built-in, and this is an excellent starting point. It also allows the files to be easily transferred in their entirety, including the project session itself to Logic Pro. This is one of the tools used in professional studios and considered an industry standard.
There will be some other things that are also necessary, of course, a digital interface for external instruments and vocals, microphones, etc. but that applies to all machines, but without a DAW, you can do nothing.
Regarding DAW’s, it has all changed over the last 15 years. Back then, if you wanted to run a professional session, you had to use a Mac Pro (not a Macbook Pro). And it had to be fully loaded with RAM (32GB or 64GB depending on which one it was). You had to use Pro Tools if you were serious. And you had to use Pro Tools own Digidesign interfaces, 192’s, etc. All this would cost you $10,000 t0 $20,000, depending on your specifications and the number of tracks you wanted to record at the same time.
Apple’s Logic was around (it had been around as Notator Logic for many years, but this was basically a software midi sequencer) and slowly gaining ground. As was Cubase, but they were far behind Pro Tools, especially in the Pro market.
It has all changed, yes similar systems to the one we just described are still used by some major Recording Studios. But as to 99.5% of all commercial releases using Pro Tools as their DAW, it is probably down to 50% by now. With Logic Pro, Cubase, Ableton, etc. making up the rest. Many music makers even use Reaper, which is free to download as long as you don’t use it commercially. And even if you do, it is still incredibly inexpensive.
It is not as glitzy or feature-packed as Logic Pro and Pro Tools, but it more than does the job! So it is an excellent option for those who are new to production or on a tighter budget. It also runs on PCs, so it is a free software option for those who prefer them to Macs.
Many top studios use a variety of systems, and a lot are not tied to Pro Tools or the Avid interfaces anymore. Current improvements in computing power and interface technology means that music makers now have a vast number of options. If you’re interested in finding out more, please check out our reviews of the best Audio Interfaces.
And let’s be honest, Radiohead recorded one of their songs using only Garageband. They never clearly stated which one it was because they didn’t want listeners and critics to point fingers at it. But the fact that recording to that level of quality is possible on free software, in itself, says a lot about what’s now available and possible.
As mentioned, Garageband is the stripped-down version of Apple’s Logic Pro, which is widely used in the best studios worldwide to record one international No.1 hit after another. It has the same functionality as Logic, but not the bells and whistles of it’s bigger professional brother. But, it’s completely free when you buy a Mac.
On the same point, currently Logic Pro is available for around $200. Pro Tools systems go for $10,000+, Logic Pro for $200, but they are both used to make hit songs worldwide daily? It doesn’t make sense?
You can only run Garageband or Logic Pro on a Mac. And Mac owns Garageband and Logic. Therefore if you want to take advantage of these amazing DAW’s, you have to buy a Mac. And that is the genius in their marketing. That is why they offer world-class recording software for free in the case of Garageband or very little for what you are getting with Logic Pro.
So, What Are The Best Laptops For Music Production?
There are some good computers on the market, and a lot of them will have the capability of being used for music production. Many of these machines are quite expensive, and really, the last thing you need is to have shell out more cash. We have, therefore, unsurprisingly chosen as our best Laptop for Music production…
It is not the perfect choice because it only has a 13-inch screen, but with a DAW loaded and everything else in place, it is the best there is.
The best Laptop for Music production.