When it comes to buying a PC or a Mac to serve as your recording studio computer, faster is always better. But contrary to popular belief, you don’t need a cutting-edge computer to record high-quality music.
Unlike editing videos or developing video games, you don’t need a computer on par with SKYNET to record, mix, or master music. You do, however, want a PC or a Mac (your choice!) with above-average performance.
In this guide from Parlor City Sound, we’re going to learn more about ideal recording studio computers, and the specifications, or “specs”, you should aim for when buying or building a computer for your recording studio.
The endless (and pointless) PC vs. Mac Debate
Let’s start by knocking down a popular and completely unsubstantiated myth: no, Macs are not “better” for audio production than PCs. Like, at all. Not even a little. And they never have been. Ever.
We say that briskly because this total falsehood really does permeate the music industry from head to toe. But despite what some people try to claim, no, Macs are genuinely not better than PCs in a recording studio.
Hang on PC fans, don’t celebrate just yet. PCs aren’t better than Macs, either. If this were a debate about modern video gaming, sure, PC wins without breaking a sweat. But for audio production, both operating systems are great. Yes, really!
There are some DAWs that are exclusive to PC, and a few exclusive to Mac. Most of them run on both, and several DAWs also run on Linux, too. And there is absolutely nothing at all—no special features, no nifty doodads, nothing—that gives either platform the upper hand over the other.
If you like Windows, get a PC. If you like Mac, get a Mac. If you like Linux, use it. And don’t let anyone tell you you’ve made a bad decision or that their operating system is somehow superior. It’s not. Use what you’re comfortable with!
All we’ll really suggest here is that you use a modern operating system and that you update it to its most recent stable version. Beyond that, feel free to use whatever OS you’re most comfortable with. You’ll get great results either way!
The Processor (CPU)
Okay, now we can get into the more important stuff, and we’ll begin with the computer’s processor.
A processor, otherwise known as a central processing unit or “CPU”, is a chip in your computer that serves as its brain. The processor does the computer’s “thinking.” And by that, we really just mean it does lots of boring but vital math stuff.
The processor plays a huge role in managing your DAW and keeping plugins running smoothly and quickly. Faster processors are better than slower ones, but you don’t actually need, or even really benefit from, having the best processor money can buy.
Most DAWs will run just fine on an Intel i5 or any quad-core (or four-core) AMD Ryzen chip. You’ll get better performance out of an Intel i7 or an eight-core AMD Ryzen, and you’d definitely see a performance gap running them side by side, but in most home studios where budgets matter, that extra money could be better spent on microphones and the like.
Of course, getting a faster processor does help future-proof your computer. If you can afford the nicer CPU, go for it. But if you’re tight on cash, those more budget-friendly options will serve you well.
The memory (RAM)
Next up is the recording studio computer’s memory. And if you’re looking for a really good bang-for-your-buck upgrade, this is the best place to start!
Random Access Memory, or “RAM”, provides your computer with short-term memory. It allows the computer to temporarily remember lots of important things at once, and then forget them when they’re no longer needed.
RAM helps just about everything related to your DAW, but plays its biggest roles when tracking (recording live instruments) and processing (adding things like compression or EQ). The more RAM you have, the quicker and more smoothly the DAW will operate.
Most DAWs will require at least 8 GB RAM to operate properly, but we very strongly recommend having at least 16 GB RAM in any computer you’re producing music with. In fact, having 32 GB would be preferable.
Mac users: be wary of how much RAM a Mac Mini has. The M1 and M2 processors are both impressively powerful, but the RAM limitations can bottleneck your work. The Minis have great pricing, but keep an eye on how much memory you’re getting too, and try to avoid the ones with only 8 GB.
The storage (SSDs vs. HDDs)
Your recording studio computer is going to need at least one hard drive to store all of your music on, so let’s discuss hard drives next.
There are two types of computer storage you’ll want to consider. HDD and SSD. They both do essentially the same thing: a hard drive stores files long-term on your computer. When you save something, you’re saving it on a hard drive.
A hard disk drive, also known as an HDD or mechanical drive, stores information on a physical disc that spins at 5,400 RPM or 7,200 RPM, and some go even faster. The higher an HDDs RPM, the faster it can save and load files. 7,200 RPM is a good spec to have when tracking. 5,400 RPM is better suited to storage, but should work fine for tracking too in most home studio applications.
A solid-state drive, or SSD, is like a hyperspeed HDD without any moving parts. They’re smaller in physical size and vastly faster than an HDD. The catch is that an SSD is way more expensive; you get more space for less with a slower HDD. They also don’t usually last as long as an HDD.
Some engineers have multiple hard drives in their computers. For instance, the desktop PC I’m writing this on has two SSDs, two HDDS, and two external drives that sit outside of the computer. But you absolutely do not need anything like this for producing audio. It’s useful, but not entirely necessary.
A 1 TB SSD or HDD will suit most home recording studios. If you’re getting two drives, we recommend getting one SSD to store your operating system, DAW software, and other applications on. Then get the biggest HDD you can reasonably afford as your second drive, and use that to store your music.
Other recording studio computer components
You’ll come across a number of other important parts, too, but they all matter less than the CPU, RAM, and hard drives when it comes to a recording studio computer.
Video cards don’t matter much when it comes to audio production, though it’s nice to give your drummer some video games to play while the guitarist and bassist have a lengthy discussion about what key the song should be in.
If you plan on running two monitors, or if you also want to do any video editing, having a nicer video card is a good idea. But if you’re on a tighter budget, any old card will do, so long as it matches the minimum required specifications of your operating system and your DAW.
Sound cards seem like they should be important, but you don’t really need one. your audio interface will do the actual processing work, as well as routing sound back to your monitors and headphones. Your motherboard most likely has an onboard audio chip that’ll work fine for everyday use.
Is it okay to use a laptop as a recording studio computer?
Yes, absolutely! Modern laptops are very powerful, especially the ones designed for PC gaming. You can find laptops with 16 GB RAM or more and a plenty-powerful CPU for under $1000.
Windows PC users: Here are a few brands worth checking out. They make high-quality laptops that should have great specifications for audio production:
ASUS and MSI are our top picks here. They make a lot of world-class gaming-grade laptops that are powerful, affordable, durable, and feature plenty of USB ports. And both brands are trusted mainstays in the PC building community as well.
A quick recap: our suggested recording studio computer
Let’s close things out with a quick glance at what we feel should be recommended specs for a Windows PC or Mac intended for studio use.
A computer with these specs will serve you perfectly, and we’re going a bit further than the minimum recommendations to ensure you find a computer that’s both powerful and somewhat future-proof.
- Processor (CPU): AMD Ryzen 5, 7, or 9 with 6 or 8 cores, an Intel i5 or i7, or an Apple M1 or M2
- Memory (RAM): 16 GB to 32 GB
- Storage space: one 1 TB SSD and one 2+ TB HDD
- Plenty of USB ports
- A good internal or external CD burner
- Antivirus program and CCleaner
We hope you found this guide useful, and we encourage you to peruse the other guides here at Parlor City Sound too. We’re not even selling anything. We just want you to make awesome music!