The Mac Studio M1 Max/Ultra is Apple’s most powerful desktop to date and the ultimate desktop for musicians & creators
Mar 9, 2022: Ordered Apple Mac Studio M1 Ultra. Delivery changed a few times, last estimate June 29.
Apr 19, 2022: Ordered Apple Studio Display that should deliver by June 3.
Jun 3, 2022: Studio Display did arrive on time. Still, I can’t use it since the Mac Studio has not <sigh>.
Jun 25, 2022: Day 109 – Apple Mac Studio M1 Ultra: Delivered!
Note: There are still 1-3 month delivery estimates on any 1TB or larger Mac Studio configuration.
If you’re a serious independent pro or amateur musician, you really want the Apple Mac Studio M1 Max/Ultra or the Apple MacBook Pro M1 Pro/Max if you need portability.
If you absolutely must spend less than $1999.00, get an M1 or M2 Apple, such as the Mac mini M1, 24″ iMac M1, MacBook Air M1 or MacBook Air M2. To suggest buying less than these systems is bad advice. Also see notes below in the Unified Memory section.
See: Apple M1 is the new DAW performance minimum.
Announced March 8, 2022, the Mac Studio with M1 Max or M1 Ultra is clearly the most exciting Apple product to date
I think the M1 Max 32GB with 10 CPU cores, 24 GPU cores and a 1TB SSD is the value sweet spot for the Mac Studio at $1999.00 plus $200.00 for the highly recommended 1TB SSD upgrade. This is the same value sweet spot I recommend for the MacBook Pro 16″ model.
With experience, I can confidently say this configuration is more than enough for the mass majority of musicians and creatives. In real world usage, it is unlikely you will push this configuration near its CPU, GPU or memory limits for a long time to come. More than this system is overkill for most people including me.
Right off the bat, let me say that even though this configuration is the value sweet spot, value may not be your most prioritized need or even a need at all. You know what you need or just plain want. There is nothing wrong with overkill and extreme future proofing. Ignore specific product recommendations from everyone, including me.
Only you know what applications you run today and what you might run in the future. Only you know how much future proofing you want and what your budget ranges are. So many blog/social media/video influencers ridiculously presume to know what the best system for you is without knowing you. Don’t be influenced.
I bought a base model Mac Studio M1 Ultra
An M1 Ultra is basically two M1 Maxs connected together and presenting as one CPU. The $3999.00 Mac Studio M1 Ultra being twice the price of the $1999.00 Mac Studio M1 Max should surprise no one. It has double the CPU cores (10 to 20), double the GPU cores (24 to 48, there is a 64 cores model for +$1000.00, I’ll pass), double the Neural Engine cores (16 to 32), double the unified memory (32GB to 64GB), double the memory bandwidth (400GB/sec to 800GB/sec), double the media engine enhancements, double the SSD storage, and 6 Thunderbolt 4/USB-C ports instead of 4 Thunderbolt 4/USB-C + 2 USB-C ports.
I have all the standard browsing, word processing and spreadsheet needs. I build websites with graphics and image editing needs. Music production in Ableton and Logic Pro is very important to me. With this purchase I intend to begin learning video production in Final Cut Pro, like I feel many musicians will soon enough. I often multitask applications concurrently and keep a number of applications open constantly.
For me, the M1 Ultra fit
Make no mistake about it though, I wanted overkill. Doubling the CPU cores, GPU cores, unified memory, memory bandwidth and more Thunderbolt 4 ports were well worth doubling the price to me. It was top of my budget and I am certain it future proofs me well over 5 years.
It is an incredible computing experience to never run out of CPU, GPU or memory. It’s great to never hear the fans. In my opinion, this is how computing should be.
It would have been nice to have more internal storage than 1TB, but the processor and memory are not upgradable, so for me it is better to prioritize those first, and supplement the internal SSD with external SSDs as I need them. The internal 1TB is plenty enough for my highest performance working storage needs. I can archive whatever amount I need to externally.
For an easy to view chart of processor differences, see: Apple M1 Processor Series.
It suffices to say the Mac Studio is cutting edge, and an amazing engineering achievement. Just be careful to project your own needs and ignore obvious biases or technical naivete out in the wild.
One of the beautiful things about M series processors is the memory in the processor chip. The performance and efficiency results of this design are significant and unmistakable. Because of this design, you cannot upgrade the memory later. It is important to get a sufficient amount of memory.
Going backwards for a second, getting an M1/M2 with 8GB memory is a mistake for DAW users. People with basic needs do it, but they are not maximizing their performance potential. They are not going to go 5 years comfortably. An M1/M2 or M1 Pro with 16GB memory is the minimum. For many DAW users 16GB is too low as well. The 32GB base memory of the M1 Max will prove quite sufficient for most electronic or rock musicians.
However, if your projects include a lot of sampled instruments, orchestral arrangements or soundtrack work, you really should consider a 64GB M1 Max or a base model 64GB M1 Ultra. I would venture very few will need the 128GB M1 Ultra option, but if you do, you probably already know it.
An important point about having a minimum of 64GB of unified memory in the M1 Ultra – this is what enables the 800GB/sec memory bandwidth. For instance, you may never use more than 32GB, but having 4 banks of 16GB (or 32GB) each at 200GB/sec means the M1 Ultra is moving memory at twice the rate of M1 Max, 4 times the rate of M1 Pro, 8 times the rate of M2, and nearly 12 times the rate of M1.
Desktop vs. Laptop
My bias or transparent needs: Prior to using a Mac Studio, I had been computing with laptops only (except servers) for over a decade, but at this point in my retired life, I have very little need for major horsepower portability. For me a powerful desktop is more useful than a laptop. My recording studio doesn’t move and I don’t gig either. The Mac Studio makes much more sense for me than a MacBook Pro as a primary computing device. Less than 5% of the time when I do need portable computing, I don’t need the super big performance horses, or the weight/bulk of lugging around a 16″ laptop. A 13″ MacBook Air M1/M2 or 14″ MacBook Pro M1 Pro suits my backpack and travel needs better. I could easily live with nothing but a 14″ MacBook Pro M1 Pro and a 27″ external monitor if I needed to though.
My needs or any opinionated influencer’s needs are meaningless for you though. Pick what you need. If you need or prefer a laptop, then that is the best choice. If you need or prefer a desktop, then that is the best choice. There is no such thing as one all around best computer.
Personal impressions of the Apple Mac Studio M1 Ultra
Using the Mac Studio is dreamy to be perfectly clear. I’m totally satisfied with this machine. For my needs, I never run out of memory, CPU or GPU power. 64GB of memory is an incredible experience. 20 CPU cores and 48 GPU cores more than satisfy. More memory or CPU/GPU cores would be wasted on me. 1TB SSD is enough for me. I can’t deny more internal storage would be better, but it really isn’t necessary with cloud/external options.
I never hear the fans, the Mac Studio itself is even cool to the touch. The Mac Studio never seems like it is working hard. It just effortlessly does what it needs to do. In my opinion this is how computing should be.
Information you need to properly digest web sites & especially YouTube.
Updated frequently – Apple Technology YouTube Critique
CPU Performance Benchmarks
CPU single-core performance of the Mac Studio is very similar to all other M1 Series processors, because of course they all share the same CPU single-core.
CPU multi-core performance is where the differences become more apparent because of the different number of CPU cores. The Mac Studios as of their release date are in many measurements the fastest Apple computers ever made. It is worth noting that while most users will not see much real world difference between 64GB and 128GB of memory, there are power user needs where it will be quite noticeable and measurable.
GPU Performance Benchmarks
On benchmarks or applications that use the GPU cores, the M1 Ultra will generally see a 25%-100% performance improvement over the M1 Max depending on the how optimized the benchmark or application is, and whether each processor you are comparing has 24, 32, 48 or 64 GPU cores.
For me personally the performance difference between 48 GPU cores and 64 GPU cores isn’t worth the $1000.00 uptick. I’m already over sizzled at 48 GPU cores. I can see however that users in a production environment where cutting GPU processing time 10% or more had measurable value, a $1000.00 uptick would be an easy affirmative choice to make.
YouTube Creators often misunderstand technology
Increasing computing resources rarely equals the same increase in performance.
This has been the case since the dawn of information technology. There are many people online that appear to have fundamental misunderstandings of computing technology. Good tech advice prepares people for reality. Reality is you can believe that Apple has done something very special with the entire M1 Series.
Most people understand that since the all M1 Series processors share components, that some things, like single core performance, are going to be the same for the M1 Max and the M1 Ultra. Beyond that it can get very complex, depending how well software takes advantage of multiple CPU cores, multiple GPU cores, neural engines, video encode/decode engines, etc.
No benchmark or application is going to be built to optimize for one specific system configuration. There are always going to be generalizations in the software, system overheads, and/or other limiting factors elsewhere in the processing chain.
Believing that increasing one resource should always equally increase system performance makes for great click bait and video drama
However it’s naive and technically inaccurate. It’s wonderful when it does scale perfectly, but there are often diminishing returns as you get more advanced in technology and no reviewer can really say whether it is not worth it or not. Only the end user knows the context and value of what is being done to decide what is worth what.
Still on an average day, software that takes advantage of increased resources is going to see measurable performance gains. Sometimes equal to the resource increase, and sometimes not. M1 Max is the all around value sweet spot, M1 Ultra is the all around performance peak, period. Both the M1 Max and the M1 Ultra may be more than average users think they need, at least today. Keep in mind though, when making technology decisions, it’s an extremely rare user that some years down the road says they have too much computing power no matter how much they overbought.
DAW Performance Benchmarks
This next set of benchmarks will give you a rough idea of DAW performance. Note: DAW performance is impacted by CPU cores and memory. An over-abundance of GPU cores will not help DAW performance. GPU cores will help video, photo and other graphic applications.
These Logic Pro benchmarks come from the ‘Mac Studio Ultimate Comparison – Is M1 Ultra Worth it?!‘ video located in the YouTube section farther down this page. The M1 Max 32GB is a 10 CPU cores, 24 GPU cores model, the M1 Ultra 64GB is a 20 CPU cores, 48 GPU cores model, and the M1 Ultra 128GB is a 20 CPU cores, 64 GPU cores model.
Note the tracks in this benchmark are not necessarily real world loaded but I think you can see all of these systems go way beyond Intel DAW performance. Real world loaded I would feel very comfortable throwing 115 tracks at the Mac Studio M1 Max base model or 210 tracks at the M1 Ultra models. No need to completely dog out the CPU, ha! The numbers would be comparable for Ableton Live and other DAWs as well.
Keep in mind, the more non-M Series optimized plugins, apps, drivers or background processes you have running on Rosetta, the less tracks you will be able to run. The processing power is so sufficient, most will not notice the difference. I would still heavily recommend updating your plugins, apps, drivers or background processes to M Series compliant as soon as possible.
Again, for DAW performance I still think the Mac Studio M1 Max 32GB with 10 CPU cores, 24 GPU cores and 1TB SSD is the value sweet spot and will more than satisfy the average musician for years to come. Still we are talking about technology which everyone knows demands more later, so more is better if you can squeeze it.
There are of course some musicians or studios that need more right at the gate, and you likely know who you are. I don’t really need more than the M1 Max but I wanted it and I chose to err on the side of future-proofing with the M1 Ultra.
Check software compatibilities
It should go without saying, but I’m gonna say it anyway. M Series has been out since November 2020. macOS Monterey has been out since October 2021. I think it’s crazy that any DAW or plugin should have issues or still require 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 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.
macOS 12 Monterey was released on October 25, 2021
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 was released on October 24, 2022
I would recommend holding off upgrading to macOS 13 Ventura at this point. It would definitely be unwise to upgrade a music production system to a brand new OS.
Ports are important for musicians & content creators
You will appreciate the additional ports the Mac Studio offers over a laptop. I appreciate the greater quantity of Thunderbolt/USB-C ports on the Mac Studio, and I totally feel any desktop should have an Ethernet port, and USB-A port(s) which the Mac Studio does have. WiFi is not always an optimum situation and I am certain everyone will have legacy USB for some time to come.
Yeah I know you can get adapters, but the expense and hassle for non-optional connectivity is uncalled for. It makes me very happy to just plug right into my building’s Ethernet network, and I have my Focusrite 18i20 2nd Gen interface that I would highly prefer to permanently occupy a port without an adapter as well as a number of USB hard drives, flash drives, cables to synths, cable to printer etc. that don’t need a continuous port.
Obviously my future purchases will be solidly Thunderbolt or USB-C. The HDMI will be very useful for TV, and occasionally I do like to plug headphones directly into the system, though most of the time it’s either through my interface or Bluetooth. I did buy the Apple USB-C VGA Multiport Adapter for an older existing monitor. This adapter also has a USB-C and a USB-A.
Mac Studio hardware upgrades
Interestingly, in the Mac Studio Full Teardown video it was discovered that there were two SSD slots inside. However, in the What happens if you try to UPGRADE a $5,000 Mac Studio? and Here’s why Apple won’t let YOU upgrade a Mac Studio [Part 2] videos, Luke Miani was unable to upgrade the (Apple proprietary) SSD which is not exactly an SSD, but turns out to be a storage module(s) with the drive controllers on the main logic board. My guess is there is probably a secret command/code that only Apple can reset the ‘SSD’ configuration with, so maybe it is possible for Apple to upgrade it, but at this point in time, don’t get your screwdriver out yet, no one has succeeded in a user upgrade and Apple is not offering upgrades yet either.
Assume no 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. If you can afford 2TB or more of Apple SSD storage, by all means do it. If it pushes your budget, consider the following section.
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 understand your actual needs and 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.
At the moment, I have a USB-A to SATA adapter with a 250GB SATA SSD that I keep my MP3, FLAC, and video collection on. I also have an old 500GB SATA HD that I can swap in for occasional data backups. This works just fine, the performance of the Mac Studio’s internal SSD is not needed for music/video playback and archival purposes. My important files are backed up to the cloud as well. I do look forward to getting a larger Thunderbolt SSD someday though I really don’t need it.
The Mac Studio has what it takes to get through the next 5+ years of your music & video productions
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 I am going to do over time is share configuration and electronic music/video recording pertinent information. More soon.
Product support, downloads
Note: I do not always agree with or endorse many of the opinions in these videos, but include them for their perspectives. I believe many video producers push value to the detriment of future proofing too much and are far too presumptive as to what your needs and preferences may actually be. It is good to listen to diverse opinions but you are the best judge for you. For instance, I’m going to grant that you know whether a desktop or laptop is best for you, instead of others personal preference.
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 MacBook Pro M2 Pro & M2 Max
Updated periodically – Apple Mac mini M1
Updated periodically – Apple Mac mini M2 & M2 Pro
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 M3 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