Here's a to the point primer on buying a Mac for Music Production. This is the most up to date info, as of September 2020.
Given that I just went through the process I thought I'd share this with my readers so here goes.
For making music some macs are good buys others not so much
First off let's start with the obvious first or most popular choice for DJs producers which is the Mac Book Pro. Right now it's a good time to buy with the 13 inch sizes just getting refreshed with 10th generation Intel processors and I believe bigger hard drives.
To the me the 16inch is nice but I have very little needs as far as portability so it's not worth paying a premium for.
What About Apples New ARM Based / Silicon Processors?
That's a fair question but it's still too early.
1. They aren't out yet and are rumored to be this fall.
2. Even with the release it will be with the latest OS and you don't want to be an early adopter in the music field with Apple's latest and greatest because music software is not instantly available, tested, and fully ready.
If you're making music you don't want to be an early adopter, you're asking for headaches. And this pertains to software, not hardware. Apple expects the shift to be fully on board with their new processors to take 2 years so if you really need a new mac as I did don't hold out.
My mid 2011 iMac is still going strong but I figured it was better to upgrade now and sell it for some $$ than to keep holding on until it won't run. Besides the new Apple Credit card allows for interest free monthly payments.
This aside stick to what's currently for sale, but everything for sale isn't worth buying for music production. There's a bunch to rule out such as the cheapest and most expensive.
The Macbooks and Macbook Airs are fairly under powered. The iMac and Mac Pros are too damn $$, which basically leaves the iMac, Mac Mini, and Macbook Pro.
Sticking with what's popular you can't go wrong and save money in the process getting a refurbished Mac Book Pro.
Apple Desktops for Music Production
Right here we have the iMac 27 that just got a reboot and is a great way to end the long running external design as well as the last hoorah with Intel processors.
The iMac has a lot going for it:
- 10th generation processors
- User friendly memory upgrades
- The Value of an all in one
- Pretty strong GPU (Not that our graphics needs are intense making music)
- Decent hard drive space
While I love the 21.5 inch model, not sure this will get a similar update. The RAM is not easy to upgrade on your own, and it's out dated. This is not worth purchasing, you're better off getting the 27.
The 1 drawback of the iMac is the lack of Thunderbolt 3/USB-C Ports with only 2 of them. This doesn't seem very future proof but I'm sure it's workable.
The Mac Mini 2018 - 2020 for Music Production
There isn't really a Mac Mini 2020 it's the same 2018 but with more hard drive so it's kind of a better deal however it still has the 8th generation Intel processors.
This is the way I went. While I love my iMac, it's not worth buying the current 21.5. The 27 is really too damn big, I don't need a 5k screen.
If I were to get it I'd prefer the i7 with a Terabyte SSD which will run $2,549 with the Magic Trackpad 2.
To me that's way over budget, my mid 2011 i7 imac was $1750 originally however I did spend $400 on an SSD upgrade 2 years ago.
While the Mac Mini has slightly outdated processors it's still a beast, it's small and I can get a smaller screen that won't be such a monster on my desk.
With the iMac, Mini, and MBPro 13s often times the very base model is not the way to go.
For me I went w/ an i7 Mac Mini w/ a Terabyte drive. I'm not used to running samples and sessions off an external and the base mac mini comes w/ 500 gb so I figured I can spend money on an external and have to figure out how to migrate data over, or spend the same money for a terabyte sized drive and not be bothered with data dilemmas other than a time machine system restore.
I did have to buy another wireless keyboard for $99, a $220 monitor but it's USB C and has 2 USB A pass thru ports. While the mac mini has a ton of ins and outs, it only has 2 regular USB ports. I always have 2 in use, maybe more and I like to charge my iphone w/ a lightning cable.
To me 4 Thunderbolt/USB C ports is future proof, the only drawback is the GPU, while it's fine now how will it be in 5 years? I guess I'll see. There is the option to run and external if needed.
The Mac Mini was the best option personally. For the money compared to a 27 inch brand new imac I don't get 10th gen processors, but I do get a speedy 8th gen i7 versus the i5 on the iMac. I save money and save space. Plus the mini has a more robust selection of inputs.
So far it's excellent, one thing I overlooked was that I was on Ableton Live 9 with no plans to upgrade to Live 10. This was forced on me because the Mac Mini ships with Catalina and Live 9 is basically broken and unsupported on this version of OSX.
Depending on your needs I'd recommend:
i5/i7 Mac Mini (check refurbished)
i5 iMac - any of them - even the cheapest model should be excellent
Macbook Pro 13 - either of the options with 4 Thunderbolt Ports
Macbook Pro 16
Apple is selling refurbished Macbook Pro 13s and 16s.