Lowest cost desktop option for musicians and creators
Do not buy a computer with 8GB memory and a 256GB SSD! Why any musician or creator would buy a new system constrained like this in 2024 is beyond me. If properly configured Apple silicon 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. Some software will not run. 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 Apple computer 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 an Apple M Series system with 8GB memory and a 256GB SSD.
Mac mini M2
With the above caveats, the Mac mini M2 and its siblings, the Mac mini M1, 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).
A Mac mini M2 with 16GB memory and 512GB SSD is $999.00. Leave it at that. If you want more than that, move up to the Mac mini M2 Pro, ok?
P.S. The 256GB SSD is slow, much slower than the 512GB SSD.
The Mac mini M2 has HDMI 2.0, WiFi 6E, and Bluetooth 5.3. Otherwise it has the same ports and same number of ports that the Mac mini M1 has (notably 2 Thunderbolt 4/USB-C ports). Note the Mac mini M2 supports 2 displays, one up to 6K over Thunderbolt, and one up to 5K over Thunderbolt or 4K over HDMI.
Mac mini M2 Pro
Many people feel the Mac mini M2 Pro is one of the best and most important systems Apple has released lately. The Mac mini M2 Pro is really the star of this release. If you are in the $1299.00-$2199.00 budget range, give it serious consideration. Yes it costs more than a Mac mini M2, but you get a lot of bang for your buck.
I will also mention that if you would add more than two options of CPU/GPU cores, memory, or SSD to the $1299.00 Mac mini M2 Pro, you might consider jumping to the Mac Studio M1 Max. Personally, for a primary system I would take the Mac mini M2 Pro in its $1299.00 configuration or bump it up to 32GB memory and a 1TB SSD, making it $1899.00 and that is probably it. Any more upgrades than that and you are firmly in Mac Studio territory. $1299.00 to $1899.00 is the sweet spot for the Mac mini M2 Pro.
If you add the 12 CPU cores, 19 GPU cores option to that, it is $2199.00, the same as a Mac Studio M1 Max with 10 CPU cores, 24 GPU cores and 1TB SSD. The Mac Studio M1 Max also has 10 Gigabit Ethernet, the 2 front USB-C ports, a front SD card slot and more GPU power, but the Mac mini M2 Pro has more CPU power. Better CPU power or better GPU power and form factor, it’s a difficult choice for a DAW user…
Keep in mind, that just like the MacBook Pro M2 Pro, the 512GB SSD on the Mac mini M2/M2 Pro is not slow, it is fast, but the 1TB SSD is as much as twice as fast.
The Mac mini M2 Pro has HDMI 2.1, WiFi 6E, and Bluetooth 5.3. It has 4 Thunderbolt 4/USB-C ports. Otherwise it has the same ports and same number of ports that the Mac mini M1 has. Note the Mac mini M2 Pro supports up to 3 displays, two up to 6K 60Hz over Thunderbolt, and one up to 4K 60Hz over HDMI, OR one up to 6K 60Hz over Thunderbolt and one up to 4K 144Hz over HDMI, OR one up to 8K 60Hz OR one 4K 240Hz. Whew! Read the specs for details.
Information you need to properly digest web sites & especially YouTube.
Updated frequently – Apple Technology YouTube Critique
CPU & GPU Performance Benchmarks
I would generally advise to not get too tied up in the minutiae of benchmarks, but they are useful for relative comparisons of processors. It is worth noting that no M Series processors are slouches. Some more than others, but all of them are a noticeable improvement over the Intel processors in previous generation Macs.
CPU single-core performance of the M2 and M2 Pro processors in the Mac mini are very similar to all other M2 Series processors, because of course they all share the same CPU single-core.
CPU and GPU multi-core performance is where the differences become more apparent because of the different number of cores.
DAW Performance Benchmarks
The M2 will handle 70+ tracks. Both versions of the M2 Pro are going to be able to handle double that at 150+ tracks. DAWs are heavy on CPU use, with very little GPU load. This Logic Pro benchmark comes from ‘The TRUTH about New Mac Mini after 1 Month – M2 vs M2 Pro!‘ video located in the YouTube section farther down this page.
I would strongly recommend the M2 Pro 10 core CPU, 16 core GPU or the M2 Pro 12 core CPU, 19 core GPU as perfect processors for the majority of musicians. Not only is your DAW gonna hum like never before, but you will experience great video and graphics processing with the 16 or 19 core GPU.
If you need more CPU horsepower for a DAW, you will need to move into a desktop Mac Studio M1 Ultra. The extra GPU cores of an M1 or M2 Max won’t help a DAW. Video and graphics processing are different issues of course.
Check software compatibilities
It should go without saying, but I’m gonna say it anyway. M Series has been out since November 2020. 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 major 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 over 2 years, 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.
My personal experience with Ventura has been very good. Everything I use runs natively on M Series and is compatible with Ventura. But don’t listen to me, do your homework!
Ports are important for musicians & content creators
The 2 Thunderbolt 4/USB-C ports on the Mac mini M2 are a bit tight for musicians and creators, but can also be easily expanded with a hub if you need more. The 4 Thunderbolt 4/USB-C ports on the Mac mini M2 Pro are better for musicians and creators. Also an external monitor like the Apple Studio Display has 3 more USB-C ports in addition to the Thunderbolt 3 connection port.
You will want to plug your interface directly into USB-C and find the 2 legacy USB-A ports good for USB 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 or get the appropriate system.
External storage alternatives
I recommend backing up all data to the cloud, and supplementing the internal Apple SSD with an external USB-C or Thunderbolt SSD/HD.
SSD speed needs for music production are similar to photography and video. This video will help you choose external SSD solutions (also in YouTube playlist below).
See Apple M Series External USB-C SSD Options for a more extensive discussion and specific product recommendations.
More soon, check back!
Product support, downloads
Yehuda Rothschild Apple Mac mini M2 Series YouTube Playlist
Yehuda Rothschild Apple Mac M Series Music Production YouTube Playlist
Apple related pages
Updated periodically – Apple Silicon is the DAW standard
Updated periodically – Apple Mac Studio M1 Max & M1 Ultra
Updated periodically – Apple Mac Studio M2 Max & M2 Ultra
Updated periodically – Apple Mac Studio M3 Max & M3 Ultra
Updated periodically – Apple MacBook Pro M1 Pro & M1 Max
Updated periodically – Apple MacBook Pro M2 Pro & M2 Max
Updated periodically – Apple MacBook Pro M3 Pro & M3 Max
Updated periodically – Apple Mac Pro M2 Ultra
Updated periodically – Apple Mac mini M1
Updated periodically – Apple Mac mini M2 & M2 Pro
Updated periodically – Apple Mac mini M3 & M3 Pro
Updated periodically – Apple MacBook Air M1
Updated periodically – Apple MacBook Air M2
Updated periodically – Apple MacBook Air M3
Updated periodically – Apple 24″ iMac M1
Updated periodically – Apple 24″ iMac M3
Updated periodically – Apple Studio Display
Updated periodically – Apple M1 Processor Series
Updated periodically – Apple M2 Processor Series
Updated periodically – Apple M3 Processor Series
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