Music production is one of the creative tasks that has been democratized by the rise of consumer technology. Tasks like editing and adding effects to multitrack recordings once required a room’s worth of equipment, but can now be done from an airplane seat by someone with a laptop and headphones. Don’t get us wrong, the skills required to pull off music production still require years of effort and experience to get right, you just need less gear to do the job.
Laptops tend to be less powerful than desktop computers, but their portability makes them the perfect choice for music production. You can take a laptop to a gig, record the show using the venue’s equipment, make a rough mix from the soundboard recording, and post it to your social media feeds that night. You’ll also be able to recreate the desktop computer experience by hooking your laptop up to a mouse, keyboard, and external display. These are the best laptops for music production available right now.
Can You Use Any Laptop for Producing Music?
This is one of the most commonly asked questions by people interested in getting into music production, and the short answer is yes. Gaming laptops require a machine that has a dedicated graphics card with plenty of video memory, but there’s no equivalent in the music production world.
Instead, we looked at the recommended system requirements for the most popular music production software, and selected laptops that meet those criteria. We feel strongly that you should be able to use whichever recording and editing software you want — provided it runs on your computer’s operating system.
All of these laptops are also powerful enough to work with the most popular consumer and prosumer recording interfaces, so you can hook them up and start making your masterpieces. Your current laptop may be able to meet the minimum system requirements for powerful recording software, which is fine if you’d like to try a DAW (digital audio workstation) before buying a new machine, but you’ll want to work on more complex recordings.
How We Picked the Best Laptops for Music Production
Our recommendations are based on in-depth research. Below are the factors we considered most highly when deciding which laptops to include in this buyer’s guide.
Processor: A computer’s processor is responsible for executing code on your computer. Everything you do, from moving the mouse cursor around to recording a 32-piece orchestra. The amount of processing power you’ll need will depend on how many tracks of audio you plan on recording and editing. Multi-core processors, which are standard in all computers now, allow your laptop to run several tasks in parallel to avoid overloading the processor and burning it out.
Memory: All of our gaming laptop recommendations have 16 GB (gigabytes) of RAM (Random-Access Memory). This is the recommended amount of RAM specified by the developers of popular recording software like ProTools. When a computer runs out of memory, it ends up dumping old data onto the system’s hard drive or deleting it entirely. Your laptop’s performance will be significantly impacted by how much memory your recording application is taking up.
Storage: Lossless (CD-Quality) and high-resolution audio files take up a lot of space (at least 10 megabytes per minute), so you’ll want a laptop with a lot of storage if music production is your full-time job or serious side hustle. We’re only recommending laptops with solid state drives (typically shortened to SSD) because your laptop can read and write data far more quickly than on a traditional hard drive.
SSDs are becoming more common in laptops, but they’re still more expensive than a traditional hard drive, so you’ll end up getting less space for the same money. All of the laptops in this guide have at least 512 GB of storage.
Ports: A computer’s ports determine what accessories can be plugged into them, and how they can output information like graphics and sound. Laptops have fewer ports than desktops, but our picks all had a wide assortment of inputs and outputs. You won’t have to worry about using an adapter when plugging in recording equipment to your computer, or connecting the machine to a monitor.
Display Size: Mixing music on a laptop big screen allows you to see more effects and controls without constantly hiding and revealing different panels. On the other hand, using a notebook with a big screen means sacrificing portability. There’s no wrong answer here, but we wanted to provide options to people who fall on both sides of that debate.
Battery Life: A laptop’s battery life will be determined by your screen brightness, the applications you’re using, and whether you’re using its WiFi or Bluetooth antennas. Recording, mixing, and editing music are power-hungry tasks, so don’t be surprised if your laptop’s battery is in the red pretty quickly. In general, expect to plug your machine into an outlet to charge every five hours or so.
Upgradability: Portable PCs are not known for their upgradability, but we wanted to make sure you had the option to add more storage and RAM to your machine to keep it running for as long as possible. Replacing your laptop every two to three years is both expensive and harmful to the environment, so seriously consider getting an upgradable laptop for your music production.
Best Laptops for Music Production: Reviews and Recommendations
Best Overall: 14-Inch MacBook Pro
Why It Made The Cut: Apple’s 14-inch MacBook Pro is an ultra-powerful, long-lasting laptop that’ll get you through long days of recording without breaking a sweat.
— Processor: M1 Pro
— Memory: 16 GB
— Storage: 512 GB
— Ultra-fast processor
— Great battery life
— MacOS comes with recording software
— Not upgradable
Macs have been the go-to computers for creative professionals for decades, and Apple’s latest 14-inch MacBook Pro is the ultimate machine for music production. It maintains this position because of Apple’s custom-designed M1 Pro processor, which is both more powerful and power efficient than chips from Intel and AMD. Apple’s lead in this area is so great that we feel comfortable recommending the company’s 2020 MacBook Air — a machine that costs $850 on sale — over almost any Windows laptop for music production.
The M1 Pro processor is complemented by 16 GB of RAM, a 512 GB SSD, and 14.2-inch high resolution display. These are all relatively normal specs for a laptop in the 14-inch MacBook Pro’s price range — save for the M1 Pro — and enough to run music production software like ProTools without breaking a sweat. Another big advantage of this machine is that it runs MacOS, an operating system that comes bundled with the multi-track audio recorder GarageBand. If you’re new to music production, GarageBand can help you learn some basic techniques that’ll transfer over when you start using paid recording software.
The 14-inch MacBook Pro addresses one of the key problems creative professionals faced when using the previous generation of Apple laptops: a distinct lack of ports. This machine has three Thunderbolt 3 ports, a MagSafe charging port, an HDMI port, an SD Card Slot, and a headphone jack. You’ll be able to connect multiple accessories to this machine without needing to carry around a dongle. One thing Apple didn’t change about its laptops is their upgradability; you won’t be able to add more storage or memory to this machine after it’s purchased.
Our final reason for selecting this laptop as the best choice for music production is its exceptional battery life. Apple says it can last up to 17 hours on a single charge, and the company isn’t kidding around. We’ve tested the 13.3-inch and 16-inch MacBook Pros and found Apple’s battery claims to be pretty accurate. You shouldn’t expect to get nearly a full day’s worth of battery life on days when you have multi-hour recording sessions, but the 14-inch MacBook Pro will last longer than any machine running Windows.
If the 14-inch MacBook Pro is within your budget (it’s currently $400 off at Best Buy), and you’re serious about getting into music production, this is the laptop to get.
Best Budget: HP 15-dy2073dx
Why It Made The Cut: HP’s 15-dy2073dx has the same amount of memory and storage as our top pick, but costs almost half the price.
— Processor: Intel Core i7
— Memory: 16 GB
— Storage: 512 GB
— Competitive specs
— Low resolution display
HP’s 15-dy2073dx has many of the same features as our other recommendations, but costs quite a bit less. The Windows machine has 16 GB of memory, 512 GB of storage, and runs on an Intel Core i7-1165G7 processor. Its integrated graphics card and low-resolution screen are entry level, but those tech specs don’t really matter in the music production world. You’re far more likely to appreciate the 15-inch size of the 15-dy2073dx’s touch-sensitive display, and the ability to adjust dials and change settings with your fingers instead of a mouse.
We feel confident in this laptop’s tech specs, but appreciate that HP allows you to add more memory and storage over time. Your needs may change as new recording software is released, or when the projects you’re working on get more complicated, so it’s nice this laptop can keep up. You won’t be able to add new ports to the 15-dy2073dx, which is why we’re happy that HP equipped it with enough to satisfy any needs. This laptop has two USB-A ports, one USB-C port, an HDMI port, a headphone jack, and an SD card slot.
We mentioned earlier that graphics are this laptop’s weak spot, but you can solve that issue in the studio by hooking the 15-dy2073dx up to a large, high-resolution monitor, which is another way to keep it in your recording setup for a long time. HP doesn’t offer any insight on how long this laptop’s battery will last per charge, but does note that it supports fast charging, which will get you from 0 percent to 50 percent in roughly 45 minutes.
HP’s 15-dy2073dx is a good all-around laptop for under $1,000 that’ll run professional recording software pretty well and has no dealbreakers. If you’re curious about music production, but don’t want to blow your entire budget on your computer, this is the laptop to get.
Best Windows: ASUS ROG Zephyrus 16
Why It Made The Cut: ASUS’ ROG Zephyrus 16 is powerful enough to handle any creative task, from music production to 4K video editing.
— Processor: Intel i9
— Memory: 16 GB
— Storage: 1 TB
— Ultra-fast processor
— Lots of storage
— Dolby Atmos speakers
ASUS’ ROG Zephyrus 16 is not only the best Windows laptop for music production, it’s one of the best portable machines we’ve ever seen. Under the hood you’ll find an Intel Core i9-12900H processor, 16 GB of RAM, and a 1 TB SSD. You can add more memory and storage to this machine if you’d like, but you shouldn’t need to upgrade for a long, long time. ASUS designed this laptop with a high-resolution 16-inch display and an NVIDIA GeForce RTX 3070 Ti graphics card with 8 GB of dedicated video memory.
These tech specs aren’t necessary for music production, but are very nice to have if you also enjoy gaming, or are a creative professional who also wants to design your own album artwork, or shoot and edit a band’s music videos. In short, the ROG Zephyrus 16 is a laptop that’ll handle anything you throw at it. NVIDIA’s graphics card will consume a lot of energy, but you can easily disable it during music production to maximize this laptop’s battery life.
The ROG Zephyrus 16’s impressive tech specs are matched by the widest selection of ports we’ve seen on a laptop in years. This machine has three USB-C ports, two USB-A ports, an Ethernet jack, an HDMI port, a combo microphone/headphone jack, a charging port, and a MicroSD card slot. If you want to connect anything to this machine, or hook it up to a monitor, it’s smooth sailing.
We typically don’t recommend laptops because of their speaker systems, but the one built into the ROG Zephyrus 16 supports Dolby Atmos. This is the next generation of surround-sound technology, and it’s the first one reaching mass adoption because streaming services like TIDAL, Amazon Music Unlimited, and Apple Music support it. If you’d like to hear the differences between your stereo and Atmos mix, the ROG Zephyrus 16 can help you out.
The ASUS ROG Zephyrus 16 is an incredibly powerful, capable laptop, but there’s no getting around its high price. If you can stretch your budget, prefer running Windows machines, and want a laptop that can handle intense tasks outside of music production, don’t hesitate to pick one up.
Best with Big Screen: LG 17Z90Q-K.AAB8U1
Why It Made The Cut: LG’s 17Z90Q-K.AAB8U1 has a big screen and lots of power in a surprisingly thin and light package.
— Processor: Intel Core i7
— Memory: 16 GB
— Storage: 1 TB
— A huge display
— Lots of storage
— Ultraportable design
If you’re primarily creating audio recordings on the road, or don’t have enough space in your studio for an external monitor, you’ll want to get a laptop with a larger screen like LG’s 17Z90Q-K.AAB8U1. There are plenty of big-screen laptops out there, but the 17Z90Q-K.AAB8U1 is also the lightest machine in our guide in spite of its 17-inch display. This laptop weighs just 2.98 pounds, which is a big difference when compared to Razer’s Zephyrus 16, which clocks in at 4.41 pounds.
Impressively, LG managed to fit an Intel Core i7 processor, 16 GB of RAM, and a 1 TB SSD into its the 17Z90Q-K.AAB8U1’s case, and left enough room for you to add more memory and storage if necessary. This laptop runs on the same integrated graphics card as our budget-friendly recommendation, but its larger, higher-resolution screen makes a monitor less necessary. One of the tradeoffs you typically have to make when picking up an ultraportable laptop is giving up ports, but LG has you covered. The 17Z90Q-K.AAB8U1 has two USB-C ports, two USB-A ports, an HDMI port, a headphone jack, and a MicroSD card slot.
One of the most attractive features of using a laptop as your music production machine is its portability. You’re going to get more performance from a desktop machine for the same money, but you can’t fit a tower and monitor in your backpack. LG’s 17Z90Q-K.AAB8U1 allows you to take a large screen computer with you everywhere you go — no accessories necessary. The company addressed all of our primary complaints with ultralight computers, and any traveling musician should be very happy with this machine.
Things to Consider Before Buying a Laptop for Music Production
Your Recording Equipment: We’ve mentioned checking the system requirements of the music production software you’d like to use before choosing a laptop, but the same is true for the hardware you’d like. Most recording interfaces require far less memory and a slower processor than professional audio software, but it doesn’t hurt to check.
Q: Can I use a gaming laptop for music production?
Yes, you can use a gaming laptop for music production, as long as your laptop meets the minimum system requirements for the recording software you want to use.
Q: How much RAM do I need for music production?
We typically found 16 GB of RAM to be the sweet spot for music production, but stepping up to 32 GB may be necessary depending on how many tracks of audio you plan on recording and mixing.
Q: Which processor is best for music production?
The latest processors from Intel, AMD, and Apple are all capable of running music production software well. Again, we recommend looking at the system requirements for the specific software you want to use before choosing a laptop for music production.
Q: How do I responsibly dispose of my old laptop?
If you’re replacing an older laptop with one of our recommendations, we recommend reading our guide on how to responsibly dispose of e-waste.
Final Thoughts on Laptops For Music Production
The fact that a portable computer is a viable machine for professional music production work is a sign of how far technology has come over the past five to 10 years. This is due in large part to simultaneous advances in the areas of power and energy efficiency of computer components, especially processors. Thankfully, this increase in power hasn’t correlated with an increase in price, and you can get a great music production machine for well under $1,000.
Music production software has followed suit, introducing new features that make them friendlier to newer creators and more capable for engineers who have years worth of experience. You’ll push your computer a lot harder doing music production work than you would editing a Google Doc or streaming videos, but these laptops can handle the increased load without getting bogged down. If you take the time to learn recording and editing techniques, the gap between you and a full-time producer will be smaller than you think.
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