We remember the days when a laptop computer for music production and recording wasn’t even something we could fathom — if you were even on a computer making music, it had to be an extremely expensive and powerful desktop. Those who brought up the possibility of laptops acting as standalone PCs or Macs in a music studio to make tunes on were typically scoffed at — we would know since we were one of them. Flash forward about a decade to our article here today, and all of those individuals who doubted laptops are now completely wrong — many laptops even give some desktop computers a run for their money! If you were looking for some top picks as the best laptop for music production, look no further. We help you understand what exactly you’ll need to look for in a music laptop as well as which picks we recommend.
Choosing the best music production laptop
Let’s first keep in mind our budget. When it comes to music production computers in general, whether you’re in need of a desktop computer or laptop, it’s going to cost you some money. With the specifications needed nowadays to run music software, we’ll be honest — prices tend to run near the thousand dollar mark. We’ve definitely seen some budget-friendly laptops that just make the cut, but they do give us the minimum “specs” without much leeway. It’ll be up to you if that’s OK to know when you’re buying the investment. As with any music recording gear, we always recommend saving up some more money and being patient if you’re able — this is a long-term buy (especially in our case today with laptops — it’s going to be the center piece of either your studio or live performance setup).
Next we’ll look into “laptop specifications” — the biggest factor aside from budget, even though which specifications and features you want in your production laptop will coincide with how much money you have saved up. We understand things start to get technical here, so we’ll elaborate on what they mean beforehand.
- Operating System: The program that runs on the entire laptop itself. Think Windows or Mac OS. These are both operating systems.
- Processor: A small chip inside of the laptop that receives inputs and sends the appropriate output. Think of it like your computer’s brain. It handles the essential processes of using your laptop — mouse movements, keyboard inputs, and more.
- RAM: The physical hardware inside of the laptop that stores data — it is essentially your “working memory”. The more you have, the more information your laptop is able to work with at the same time. This is important for software, especially music production.
- Hard Drive\Disk Space: How much space you need on your hard drive to actually install and use the program. This isn’t taking into account what space you’ll need to actually save your projects, virtual instruments, effects, and more.
To get us a basis of measurement going, let’s look into two of the most popular music software and their “minimum requirements” to run smoothly. The reason we chose Pro Tools as our main “rule of thumb” is because it is the most demanding DAW in the world. If you do run Pro Tools, great, we hit it right on the head. If not, it will still give us confidence that we’re going to have enough power and speed to handle even the toughest software out there (as you can see there’s quite a large difference as compared to Ableton Live).
Pro Tools 12
- Operating System: Mac OS X 10.8.5 \ Windows 7
- Processor: Intel Core i5 \ AMD equivalent
- RAM: 16GB
- Disk Space: 15GB
- USB Ports: Two ports (or FireWire)
- 64-bit AAX plug-ins
Ableton Live 9
- Operating System: Mac OS X 10.7 \ Windows 7
- Processor: Any multicore processor
- RAM: 4GB
- Disk Space: 3GB
- USB Ports: As many as you need for your gear
Now that we’re aware of the “minimum requirements” for some popular software, here’s what we recommend grabbing since the “minimum” isn’t necessarily what you should have at your fingertips.
- Operating System: The latest Mac OS X \ Windows 10
- Processor: At least an Intel Core i5 or higher
- RAM: If you’re on Pro Tools, 32GB unfortunately. Otherwise, all other DAW we say 16GB is more than enough.
- Disk Space: Here’s a specific recommendation — grab at least 256 GB of hard drive space, and make sure that a portion of that is SSD (Solid-State Drive)! This is crucial. SSD is essentially able to handle processes quicker which make or break your use of music software. Don’t forget!
- USB Ports: If you don’t have an audio interface, most laptops come with at least 4, so you’ll be fine.
Lastly, do you want Mac or PC? This debate will be the end of us, and honestly, we’re at the point of telling our readers, friends and family that it really doesn’t matter at this point. It’s going to be personal preference (let us know your personal experiences in the comments, however). If you see below, the MacBook Pro did make it first in our list, however it may just not be your thing. The rest of the laptops for producing music are PC’s with Windows on them, so feel free to jump around if you need to. Do keep in mind that all music software isn’t necessarily cross-platform yet (being compatible with different operating system), so if you already have your DAW picked out, double-check before buying your laptop. If you haven’t chosen your software yet, it’s vice versa — you may be limited to whatever laptop you buy.
The top 10 best laptops for music recording and production
Apple MacBook Pro
First we have (probably) the most mainstream brand ever when it comes to laptops, the Apple MacBook Pro. It is the most well-known for good reason, however. It offers a combo of high-end technology and features which is the reason why it is labeled one of the best laptops for music making. The MacBook Pro is equipped with a very solid processor that supplies up to 4.1GHz, as well as a 3.2GB/s SSD storage system – both of which are at the top of the market when it comes to laptops and as we explained previously, essential for all music software at this point. The processors are more than fast enough to handle virtually every kind of digital audio workstation (DAW). To your pleasure, most music production software today is also Mac-friendly, but we said, double-check if you already have your software picked out.
It also supplies up to 10 hours of battery life to provide you with necessary battery life for long production or performance sessions. With Apple, you know you are getting years of technological innovation and trustworthy durability, so if you’re a brand guy (or girl), the Apple MacBook Pro will serve as a great option for producers. This also made our DJ laptops guide for a reason — you just can’t beat the power, confidence and stability MacBooks bring.
Lenovo ThinkPad P
Next we will talk about a PC model, the ThinkPad P by Lenovo. This is a laptop series that offers cutting-edge processing, rugged construction, and relatively high-resolution graphics, all of which is why it’s known to be one of the best music production laptops out there right now. The Lenovo is packed with a “Intel Core i7-7600U Processor” that will get you up to speeds of 3.9GHz – enough speed and power to facilitate your productivity and creativity. The Lenovo also comes with an ergonomic “ThinkPad” keyboard that will provide you with long-lasting comfort while you’re trying to create and mix beats for hours at a time.
We love this pick because it also offers a pretty advanced visual experience, as it’s configured with 4K UHD (3840 x 2160 pixels) LCD screen for pretty awesome graphics/visuals – this can be useful if you ever plan on creating visuals for your own live show or want to watch some movies or shows on it if you’re not producing or recording. The Lenovo ThinkPad P is a highly reviewed laptop that packages speed, durability, multi-port flexibility, and long-lasting battery life to make it one of the strongest options as the best laptop for music making if you wanted a PC with Windows.
Dell Inspiron 15 7000
Now we feel the Dell Inspiron 15 7000 – a budget-friendly laptop series that is specifically designed for gaming, but can be adequately used for music making due to the enhanced processor and quality sound, among other useful features. The Inspiron is made with a quad-core processor powering up to 3.8 GHz, which is really good for the price. It also supplies an above-average 8-16GB (pending on which model you pick) of RAM that is able to support up to 32GB of DDR4 memory if you choose to add more, as well as a 1TB 5400 rpm hybrid hard drive with 8GB cache – both of which should be enough to handle your music library.
The Dell also has “stay cool” vents designed to keep your laptop from heating up, which will let it work to its full potential – this is important because music production software often demands lots of work from your CPU. Though it is designed for gaming, the Dell Inspiron 15 7000 can also be one of the best laptops for music making because gaming and music production both demand similar needs from a CPU unit.
Samsung Notebook 9 Pro
Moving forward we have the Samsung Notebook 9 Pro, which is a cool smaller laptop that offers a 2-in-1 aspect with an intuitive touchscreen that can be flipped into tablet mode. The Notebook 9 Pro is equipped with the latest “7th Gen Intel i7 Processor” that will let you work, create, and pretty much do any sort of multitasking music producing calls for; this is why it is labeled one of the best music production laptops. It also has a Radeon 540 graphics card that really help graphics pop off the screen – could be useful if you’re ever virtually mixing your music.
As we touched on earlier, the Notebook 9 Pro can be flipped into tablet mode if you ever need a change-of-pace while you’re working, while also coming with an intuitive “S Pen” that enhances the touchscreen aspect. This may be also beneficial if you plan on performing live and want some different work flow capabilities. The storage capacity is a very solid 256GB, which should be adequate unless you plan on storing larger files such as movies, in that case you’d probably need to buy additional storage. Overall, the Samsung Notebook 9 Pro is a relatively good laptop for music making, and it offers some flexibility that others in this guide do not.
Here we have another computer that is specifically made for ‘gaming’, but gaming PCs are just really powerful laptops, which is essentially what you need with music production software. The Alienware 17 is beastly, and is a Windows-running 17-inch laptop that can be one of the best music recording laptops due to its high-performance RAM and large hard drive. The 17-inch screen-size also gives you an advantage whenever you will be navigating through music production software.
With the Alienware you’ll also get 16GB of DDR4 which is a really fast type of RAM, along with a terabyte of hard drive space. The RAM performance will be important if you’re ever running something like Pro Tools or Albeton, as those programs demand a lot of resources and will not be fun if you run them on a slower computer as we had previously explained. Like we discussed earlier, a gaming laptop will meet the demands of music production, and the Alienware 17 is a fast-performing laptop that would be a very solid choice for composers and musicians alike.
Dell XPS 15
The XPS 15 series is another Dell laptop that has a really slim design, packed with a high-performance processor and memory that make it efficient enough to be one of the best music production laptops in the market today. The Dell XPS 15 also has the ‘gaming’ laptop title around it, but we will embrace the title since we know performance demands for gaming and music production are similar, with games even more so. The XPS 15 has quite a few choices to pick from when it comes to processors that supply of up to 3.8 GHz; the entry model comes with a 7th gen i3, the middle with a 7th gen i5, and the top comes with the 7th gen i7 processor – if you’re in it for the long-run, the top model may have the best return on investment.
Regarding memory, the low-end model in the series sports a 7200RPM hard disk drive which would be good enough for music production, but if you’re scared it won’t be enough, the higher-end models come with SSD of up to 512GB. Each laptop in the series comes with the 15.6” “InfinityEdge” display, stereo speakers, hi-def audio, and multiple ports including a Thunderbolt 3 – choose which model fits your budget and style best. The Dell XPS 15 is a solid music laptop, that’s for sure.
ASUS ROG Strix G-SYNC
Moving along, we have the ASUS ROG Strix G-SYNC – a high-end and powerful laptop that features a lightweight yet powerful design that can be pretty handy for music making. The G-SYNC features a 7th gen i7 processor which will give you more than enough speed for multitasking, as well as a rather large capacity of up to 16GB of DDR4 RAM – the composition of power, speed, and capacity are the reasons why this model makes its ranks in this guide. The ASUS has a 17.3”, 120Hz G-SYNC display with a 170 degree wide view panel for an enhanced visual experience, which isn’t necessarily a ‘need’ for music making but it is nice to have a display like this if you ever plan on using it for things like streaming, video editing, etc.
The ROG Strix also comes equipped with a duo-copper cooling system that cools the CPU and GPU simultaneously; this maximizes performance efficiency for hours at a time. The compact design (only weighing 6lbs) of this model can fit snugly into any bag or backpack if you’re ever trying to make beats on-the-go or are a traveling gig musician. With all the high-end features and price-point, the ASUS ROG Strix seems best for people who have a little more money and more experience with laptops.
Lenovo Legion Y520
Tuning into the Lenovo Legion Y520, we have one of the best music production and recording laptops for budget conscious producers. The Y520 is a 15.6” gaming PC that is packed with a 7th gen i7 processor which is great for the price. The starter model comes with 8GB of RAM, but is upgradable of up to 16GB with the advanced model. The Legion also comes with a NVIDIA GTX 1060 graphic card which is important because some DAW’s can make use of GPU processing, so having a graphic card is good in that instance. Regarding memory, you can choose from a couple of options: the entry model comes with up to 512GB of SSD storage and the advanced comes with up to 2TB of HDD storage. Or you could do a ‘hybrid’ storage which combines both of them for the best of both worlds.
The Legion is also designed with a cooling system like some of the models discussed earlier, which enhances performance for the CPU and GPU units — perfect for those on stage or in a studio that tends to get hot (or for precautionary reasons, of course). Taking this model anywhere wouldn’t be an issue either, as it has a fairly portable design. In short, the Lenovo Legion Y520 offers pretty powerful performance at a manageable price – the Lenovo sits on the lowest price-point in our guide.
Gigabyte Aero 14
If you’re going to be traveling a lot while producing or are just an on-the-go performing type, the Gigabyte Aero 14 may be the best music laptop for you. This is probably the most portable model on here, as it is only 14” and 4 lbs, but also still has a 94Wh battery life for ‘full-day productivity’ – pretty rare for a laptop of this size. The Aero 14 comes with a 6th gen i7 processor that will be more than enough for your DAW, or any software in general. You can choose either to buy a model with 8GB or 16GB DDR4 of memory – you also have the option to upgrade it to a maximum of 32GB.
The Aero 14 also has 2 M.2 slots of 2280 SSD storage that are much faster than typical hard drives and consume a relatively less amount of power. The Gigabyte 14 is ideal if you’re looking for something that’s small with a high performance CPU unit.
Last we will talk about the HP Envy, which is a pretty popular pick if you’re not going Mac. The Envy has quite a few models to pick from, starting with either the 13” or 17”, as well as deciding which other specs will fit you best. The entry models come with the 7th gen i5 processor, while the high-end options are equipped with the i7 – the i7 is the more ideal option, as you have read, music production demands power and speed. You can also pick what amount of memory and storage you want — the basic models come with up to 8GB of memory and 256GB SSD storage, while the highest model comes with 16GB and 512GB SSD.
The HP Envy also has very solid battery life that will last up to 14 hours on the 13” model and 10 hours on the 17” model. All models have the HP audio boost and speakers with “SmartAmp” technology for higher performing sound for your music (although we recommend using studio headphones or monitors while you make your tunes). It all boils down to which HP Envy model fits your style, DAW, and budget. We produced on one of these for about 7 years back in 2007, and love this series to cap off our list for the best music production laptops in the market today.