Which Computer Is Best for a Home Recording Studio?

Photo by Matthewdfr, CC BY-SA 3.0

As technology becomes smaller and more affordable, creating one's own home recording studio has gone from dream to reality for countless musicians. For a few thousand dollars you can turn your basement into an acoustic playground fit for recording, mixing and mastering all in one place. While you can outfit your new studio with an endless list of cool gadgets, the most important tool will be your computer.

Your computer will be the base of operations before, during and after recording. You may be able to manage with whatever computer you're using now, but there are definitely some things to look for to optimize your music-producing experience. We'll be looking at the most demanding aspects of music manipulation software and hardware, as well as the computer accessories you just can't live without.


First, there are people in both the PC and Mac camp regarding the best computer for studio use. Arguments can be made for both and in the interest of being fair, I've included suggestions for each. That said, Mac is the typical choice of experts in the field. The uniformity of available programs, updates and formats is what makes Mac so popular, but depending on your needs and preferences, using a PC won't make much difference.

First, let's discuss the requirements of a good studio computer.

Processor- You will be using multiple applications and plug-ins at once, so a multi-core processor is essential. Multi-core processors will help distribute the load of multiple virtual instruments and allow for smooth play-back as opposed to fewer processors which may be overwhelmed.

RAM- Processing speed is useless without the RAM to support it. Try to balance the two, and have at least 2 GB of RAM to start.

Hard Drive Speed- Hard drive speed is measured in RPM and relates to the speed with which a computer accesses stored data. Since you will be dealing with large libraries of information, your hard drive RPM is relatively important and a starting suggestion 7200 rpm.

Monitor Space- This goes back to when you will have multiple applications running simultaneously, attempting to make minute changes to delicate pixels. You'll want a large, clear monitor capable of high resolution.

You'll be using studio monitors and headphones to mix, so ironically one thing you don't have to worry about is the audio quality. Now that you know what a good studio computer should have, here are our recommendations.

For a tight budget:

1. The Mac Mini- This little darling of a machine has everything you need to start. It's extremely affordable and more than capable of running most professional DAWs.
2. Dell Inspiron 3000- This affordable PC is actually cheaper than the Mac Mini with competitive features. The 23” monitor option is also acceptable.

For a larger budget:

1. The Mac Pro- The Mac Pro is the quintessential tool of professional studios, and for good reason. It is incredibly quick, capable of seemingly endless storage, and has plenty of auxiliary ports for gadgets like Native Instruments' Maschine MKII. Check out some Maschine MK2 tutorials to see what can be accomplished with these incredible tools.
2. Acer Predator- The Predator line is great for multi-media producing. You'll get a state of the art video card for visual projects and all the specs you need, including a ton of storage space. Consider the Predator if you're not using your computer exclusively for music.

In addition to a capable computer, you'll need a few accessories to help organize and optimize your work. When picking accessories, consider the following:

Keyboard- For your keyboard you'll need a number pad and markers for all your DAW shortcuts. Some keyboards come with markers, or you can buy keyboard covers to use as a cheat sheet.

Mouse- Much like your keyboard, you'll want a mouse which can remember several of the various DAW shortcuts, making them accessible with buttons on the mouse rather than the keyboard.

That's it! Now you know the basic essentials for your new home recording studio computer. As you grow in experience and technical skill you may find that you want to upgrade certain functions of your rig, but for now these basics should get you on the ground running. 
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