Lowest cost desktop option for musicians and creators
Apple Mac mini M1 $1099.00 minimum as recommended below
Do not buy the base model! Why anyone in 2022 would buy a new machine constrained with only 8GB memory and a 256GB SSD is beyond me. If a properly configured Mac mini M1 is too expensive for you, buy used or refurbished.
I’m not going to play with you here, or hem and haw like many YouTubers do. 8GB of memory and a 256GB SSD are not enough for musicians and creators. It’s tight now and has a negative future-proofing factor. A 16GB memory upgrade for $200 and a 512GB SSD upgrade for $200 are seriously the minimum of what you need.
My minimum Mac mini M1 recommendation for musicians and creators is 16GB memory and 512GB SSD or more. Any less than this does not make performance or economic sense. You will regret buying a base model Mac mini M1.
With the above caveats, the Mac mini M1 and its siblings, the MacBook Air M2, the MacBook Air M1 and the 24″ iMac M1 make amazing low cost options for musicians and creators. For some the 13″ MacBook Pro M1/M2 would also be a viable option, but I personally hate the touch bar and find the design/features dated, so they are not for me (or the majority of others).
CPU Performance Benchmarks
The single-core performance of the Mac mini is very similar to all other M1 Series processors, because of course they all share the same core.
Multi-core performance is where the differences become more apparent because of the different number of cores. It is worth noting that even the entry level M1 Mac mini holds its own against all previous Intel-based Macs.
GPU Performance Benchmarks
To give you a rough idea of DAW performance, these Logic Pro benchmarks come from the ‘Mac Studio vs M1 Mac Mini after 2 Weeks! Real-World Results..’ video located in the YouTube section farther down this page. These are base models. The Mac mini M1 8GB has 8 CPU cores and 8 GPU cores. The Mac Studio M1 Max 32GB has 10 CPU cores and 24 GPU cores.
Note the tracks in this benchmark are not necessarily real world loaded but I think you can see both of these systems will satisfy average DAW performance needs. Real world loaded I would feel very comfortable throwing 60 tracks at the Mac mini M1 8GB model or 115 tracks at the Mac Studio M1 Max 32GB model. No need to completely dog out the CPU, ha! The numbers would be comparable for Ableton Live or other DAWs as well.
DAWs will run on an 8GB Mac mini but you will hit the memory ceiling and feel it. Your call but I recommend 16GB. 256GB is a pointless SSD capacity as well. You will be on external storage very quickly.
Check software compatibilities
It should go without saying, but I’m gonna say it anyway. M1 series has been out since November 2020 and macOS Monterey since October 2021. I think it’s crazy that any DAW or plugin should have issues or still be running on Rosetta emulation, but not everyone listens to me. Do your homework!
Furthermore, in my opinion any software company that markets to Apple users and hasn’t updated their software to include Apple silicon compatibility deserves to lose your business. It’s been a year and a half, and at this point it’s a real screw you. They obviously don’t care about their customers and should be replaced by a company that cares more about their customers.
All that said, my personal experience has been very good. Everything I use runs natively on M Series and is compatible with Monterey.
macOS 13 Ventura: Compatibility Guide
I would recommend holding off upgrading to the soon to be released macOS 13 Ventura at this point. It would definitely be unwise to upgrade a production system to a Ventura beta.
Ports are important for musicians & content creators
I am especially glad Mac mini M1s have an Ethernet RJ-45, 2 Thunderbolt/USB-C ports, 2 legacy USB-A ports, and an HDMI port. The Thunderbolt/USB-C and the USB-A ports can also be easily expanded with a hub if you need more. Also an external monitor like the Apple Studio Display has 3 more USB-C ports in addition to the Thunderbolt 3 connection port if you go that route.
You will want to plug your interface directly into USB-C or if you can’t do that, USB-A. The USB-A ports will be useful for legacy hard drives, flash drives, cables to synths, cable to printer etc.
Obviously wise future purchases will be solidly Thunderbolt or USB-C. The HDMI will be very useful for TV, and occasionally most musicians like to plug headphones directly into the system, though most of the time it’s either through an interface or Bluetooth. You can also buy the Apple USB-C VGA Multiport Adapter for an older existing monitor if you need it. This adapter also has a USB-C and a USB-A.
Mac mini hardware upgrades
Remember no internal hardware upgrades can be performed. This is especially true with Apple silicon. SoC or System on Chip as you probably already know, cannot be upgraded. The advantages are more than worth it, but push yourself to adequately configure memory and storage for the future.
External storage alternatives
I recommend backing up all data to the cloud, and supplementing the internal Apple SSD.
See Apple M Series External USB-C SSD Options for a more extensive discussion and specific product recommendations.
The Mac mini M1 has what it takes to last 5+ years
This is why you buy Apple. Realistically with the cost of computers these days, a 1-3 year refresh cycle is not practical for most people. Unlike the majority if not all PC systems, Apple computers are built to last and Apple silicon is state of the art enough to start you at the head of the pack.
Keep coming back
What will be different about this site compared to many Apple sites is over time we will be sharing configuration and electronic music/video recording pertinent information. More soon.
Product support, downloads
Apple related posts
June 26, 2022 – Apple Mac Studio M1 Ultra: Delivered!
March 22, 2022 – Apple M1 is the new DAW performance minimum
March 9, 2022 – Changed MacBook order to Mac Studio M1 Ultra
February 20, 2022 – Finally a MacBook Pro M1 with all the wanted features
Apple related pages
Updated periodically – Apple Mac Studio M1 Max & M1 Ultra
Updated periodically – Apple MacBook Pro M1 Pro & M1 Max
Updated periodically – Apple Mac mini M1
Updated periodically – Apple MacBook Air M1
Updated periodically – Apple MacBook Air M2
Updated periodically – Apple 24″ iMac M1
Updated periodically – Apple Mac Pro M2 Series
Updated periodically – Apple M1 Processor Series
Updated periodically – Apple M2 Processor Series
Updated periodically – Apple Mac Miscellaneous
Updated periodically – Apple Technology YouTube Critique
Updated periodically – Apple Studio Display
Updated periodically – Apple Studio Pro Display
Updated periodically – Apple M Series External USB-C SSD Options