Although being bulky and stationary, a desktop computer is the best budget option for music production. They not only have serious computing power but also can be upgraded easily down the line. Components for computers are always readily available and the whole expanding process is simple and affordable. Anyhow, let’s get into what to look for when buying the best desktop computers for music production:
1. Form factor
Computers come in various shapes and sizes. The best desktop computers for music production don’t necessarily have to be in one standard form factor. Here are the form factors you need to know and what they entail:
The only difference between a tower and a desktop is how they sit on your desk. The former comes with a vertical chassis while the latter is built with a horizontal chassis. Computers of these two types have a spacious internal room for future upgrades. On the downside, towers and desktops take up more space than a laptop or mini PCs and lack a display unit.
These types are the standard of the PC world and most computers in the wild are of these form factors. As bulky as they are, I recommend every first-time buyer to get one of these. They are easy to work with, reliable, versatile, and affordable. You could get a powerful rig such as HP Pavilion 590-p0157c at a very reasonable price.
As the name implies, an All-in-one (AIO) computer has everything built into one single unit. The whole system is integrated into the display. Therefore, it does not take up much space and is easier to carry around than tower or desktop computers.
On the other hand, AIO computers are more challenging to upgrade as everything is designed to fit into one chassis. Furthermore, should one component malfunction it would affect the system as a whole. Nevertheless, AIOs such as Acer Aspire Z24-890-UA91 are still great desktop computers for music production.
SFF (small form factor) or mini PCs offer great balance between performance and portability. These are not only the best desktop computers for music production but also an affordable and portable option. Similar to AIOs, mini PCs are hard to upgrade due to their compact form, lacking room for future components.
Mini PCs are small in size and can be tuck away to hide from view, allowing for more desk space. If that sounds like what you want, HP EliteDesk 705 G4 or Mac Mini can be the best desktop computers for music production.
2. Operating systems
Here comes the age-old debate that is never settled: Mac or PC, which one is better for music production (and everything else). There are some apps that can work on both OS, such as Ableton, Reaper, etc. However, some software runs only on a particular OS. For instance, for Windows there’re Sonar, FL Studio, etc. while Mac OS has Soundtrack Pro, Peak, etc.
Now let’s take a look at what each of these OS have to offer:
Apple’s operating system has gained the upper hand in making best desktop computers for music production. Their iMac lineups are favored by musicians and creative professionals alike. They pack serious computing power in a sleek design which making them nice to look at. If you need something that work out of the box, a Mac machine is an excellent choice.
However, to enjoy such luxury, you will have to spend a fortune to get an iMac or iMac Pro. You even have to pay extra money for additional apps as there are far fewer free apps and plugins compared to Windows. Furthermore, you can’t upgrade the components easily.
The major benefit of a Windows computer is the price and performance. There is a variety of PCs with different specs at different price marks to choose from. Furthermore, you can upgrade or customize them to your liking. For instance, you can buy a powerful rig like Skytech Legacy and still have spare money to buy additional peripherals.
On the other hand, Windows desktop computers tend to be more complex to work with. The compatibility is not as good as Mac on Windows, you have to keep an eye out for drivers and the like. Music producers may also suffer from fan noise which will disturb the audio recording session.
As you can see, each OS has their own pros and cons. My advice is just choosing an OS that you’re comfortable with. Just remember, there’re plenty of great choices whichever OS you go with. There’re best desktop computers for music production in both Windows and Mac platforms.
The next thing on the list is specifications. The power of a computer determines how well and fast it is at data and music processing. There are three main factors you need to know to determine the specs of a best desktop computers for music production:
This is the most important component in music producing activities. It can be said that a processor is the part that does most of the heavy lifting. As the name implies, the CPU handles the “processes” of your computer by giving instructions to the other components in your rig. The faster the processor the quicker you get your job done.
In general, you should look out for at least a quad-core processor with a clock speed of 2.5 GHz. Remember to avoid low-powered CPUs such as Celeron, Pentium, etc. even Intel Core i3 or Ryzen 3. The base here is either an Intel Core i5 or Ryzen 5 and above.
Check out this Lenovo ThinkCentre V530s which features an Intel 6-core i5 of the 9th generation. A rig with a Ryzen 5 such as SkyTech Shadow II also provides great value for the money.
You can never have too much RAM. The more RAM you have, the better. Although some audio software state they need only 4GB RAM as a minimum specs requirement, 8GB RAM is the baseline. If you are just trying out, get a PC with at least 8GB RAM like this Dell OptiPlex 3070.
If you are serious about music production, then it’s advisable to get about 16GB RAM. If you have the budget, you can even go for PCs with 32GB RAM like Dell Vostro 3000. 64GB RAM or more is a bit overkill for what we’re doing, so avoid buying more than 32GB RAM.
Make sure you get at least some SSD drives. Compared to traditional HDD, SSD is far much quicker in processing data. With an SSD, your loading time is reduced and everything feels snappier to use.
However, an SSD is more expensive than an HDD of the same size. Therefore, the most ideal solution is a dual hybrid storage setup. It means that you will get an SSD for operating system files while HDD is used to store projects, audio samples or plugins. You use the former for processing while the latter is used for simply storing.
As a minimum, I recommend you to get 1TB of storage, at least 256GB of which must be SSD. For instance, Dell Inspiron 3471 with 256GB SSD and 1TB HDD is ideal for a tight budget. If your budget allows it, you can buy a PC with 1TB SSD such as Dell Vostro 3000 for better speed and capacity.
You’ll most likely use an audio interface and additional external gears such as control surfaces, keyboard, etc. Therefore, you need to look out for the number of USB ports on the computer. The best desktop computers for music production should have as many USB ports as possible. Ideally, aim for desktop computers with 6 USB ports like Skytech Oracle or Dell Optiplex 9020.
You should also keep an eye out for USB-C or Thunderbolt connectors. It’s a safe bet to assume that audio interfaces and MIDI devices will move to these standards in the near future. If you are running out of ports, you can purchase docking stations or USB hubs to expand their connectivity options.
1. Do I need a good soundcard for music production?
No, not necessarily as you’ll most likely use an audio interface. Moreover, PCI sound cards can’t output the accurate audio representation as an audio interface does. There’s also the problem of latency and crashing. As a soundcard is severely lacking in terms of power, it may cause your computer to restart and lose your progress.
In addition, because audio interface is an external gear, your computer doesn’t have to process as much. Some sound cards are okay and produce adequate sound quality. However, at the end of the day, a soundcard is still no match for an audio interface.
2. Can I use a gaming PC for music production?
Yes, you can. A gaming desktop typically has the power to handle music production. Being as high performance and powerful as they are, gaming desktops can handle a DAW smoothly.
However, the biggest problem with gaming computers is the noise they make. You can solve this by turning down the fans or replacing them with a premium, silent fan type. The next issue is the storage. You need to install additional disk space (preferably 1TB+) to store all the projects and audio plugins.
On the other hand, you can’t do the opposite – using music producing desktop computers for gaming. Most of the desktop computers for music production have powerful CPU and RAM, but lack a GPU. Therefore, they can’t be used to play games, especially demanding titles.
If you already own a gaming PC you can use it for music production. Otherwise, you shouldn’t spend extras on a gaming PC just for running DAW and audio plugins.
3. Do I need a powerful GPU for music production?
No, you don’t. To be more specific, you don’t need a discrete graphic card for music production. The onboard or integrated GPU on a CPU is more than enough to get the job done. The reason is that music production is not as graphic-intensive as gaming, 3D rendering or editing.
In the past few years, some would argue that the best desktop computers for music production need a dedicated GPU. They said that without one, the CPU would have to do all the work and thus can be slowed down. However, this is no longer an issue as modern CPUs have become so powerful.
4. Should I choose laptops or desktop computers for music production?
Let’s start with the one thing that differs a desktop and a laptop: portability. If you are constantly travelling and want to produce on-the-go then go with a laptop. On the other hand, if you don’t travel as much, I would recommend a desktop computer for music production for the following reasons:
Price: For the same amount of processing power, a laptop would always cost more than a desktop.
Performance: Everything components in a desktop is simply in a class above their laptop counterpart. Desktop computers are just faster at a cheaper price.
Connectivity ports: Desktop computers often offer more connectivity ports out of the box. You can have many USB ports, Thunderbolt ports, etc. while on the laptop you may have to purchase a separate docking station.
Future-proofing: A desktop computer offers you various upgrading options. You can replace the CPU or stick in more RAM easily. On a laptop, upgrading is more complex and challenging to accomplish.
5. Beside a desktop computer, should I get anything else for my music production setup?
There are some equipment you need to consider to be able to produce the best final audio product:
As for software, here’s the list of popular programs for music producers:
Adobe Audition C
Avid Pro Tools