The Apple MacBook Pro M1 Pro/Max is Apple’s most powerful 2021/2022 laptop and a great choice for musicians/creators
If you’re a serious pro or amateur musician, you really want the Apple Mac Studio M2 Max & M2 Ultra or the Apple MacBook Pro M2 Pro & M2 Max. A large music and/or video recording studio without budget restraints or someone who must have PCIe slot expansion may want to consider the Apple Mac Pro M2 Ultra. These are the three best computers for creatives you can buy.
If you absolutely must spend less than $1999.00, consider the Mac mini M2 Pro. Other less expensive options are the Mac mini M2, Mac mini M1, MacBook Pro M1 Pro, MacBook Air M2, MacBook Air M1 or 24″ iMac M1. Even buy used or refurbished if need be. To suggest buying less than these systems is bad advice. Also see notes below in the Unified Memory section.
See: Apple Silicon is the DAW standard.
The MacBook Pro M1 Pro and M1 Max are still among the most powerful and best designed Apple laptops you can get
For creative pursuits, the MacBook M1 Pro/Max laptops really launched a whole new era of portable systems. Apple really achieved something major. The design and performance of these machines is exquisite, to say the least. There are many ways to configure these laptops and everyone’s needs are different. In my opinion, the 14″ is best configured as a M1 Pro system, and the 16″ is best configured as a M1 Max system.
Models have 8-10 CPU cores, 14-32 GPU cores, 16 Neural Engine cores, 16GB-64GB RAM, media engine enhancements, memory bandwidth of 200GB/sec to 400GB/sec, 3 Thunderbolt 4 (USB-C) ports, HDMI, internal display 3024×1964/3456×2234, external display to 6k. The MacBook Pro M1 Pro & M1 Max are among the best designed laptops Apple has produced.
For an easy to view chart of processor differences, see: Apple M1 Processor Series.
The 14″ M1 Pro fits portability needs
The M1 Pro 16GB with 10 CPU cores, 16 GPU cores and 1TB SSD is the value configuration sweet spot for the 14″ at $2499.00. This is a very high powered system and my preference for a balance of performance and portability. I bought this exact 14″ MacBook Pro M1 Pro configuration for my daughter in July 2022, and later bought a 14″ MacBook Pro M2 Pro to supplement my Mac Studio M1 Ultra in January 2023. I love this configuration!
The M1 Max 32GB with 10 CPU cores, 24 GPU cores and 1TB SSD is the value configuration sweet spot for the 16″ at $3299.00. This is the same value configuration sweet spot I recommend for the Mac Studio. The 16″ is large from a portability perspective, but if you’re going to do high power computing, you really need the bigger battery and better thermals of the 16″ form factor. To keep things in perspective, a 16″ MacBook Pro is large and 4.7 pounds, but this is nothing next to hauling around guitars, full-sized keyboards, drums, amps, PA systems, etc. If you need the greatest performance and/or largest screen size in a portable package, the 16″ MacBook Pro M1 Max is for you.
Aside from portability and power, there is another undeniably strong point for the M1 Series MacBook Pro 14″ and 16″ models: the display. You can’t buy a display as good as the M1 Pro/Max MacBook Pros have currently, it is that good. When an equal display (larger at 27″) does become available, it will cost as much as a whole MacBook Pro. That said, the Apple Studio Display makes a nice compliment available now at a more reasonable cost though still premium. Or wait and save your pennies for the Apple Studio Pro Display.
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, I think getting an M1/M2 with 8GB memory is a mistake for DAW users. People with simple needs do it, but they are not maximizing their performance potential. An M1/M2 or M1 Pro with 16GB memory is the minimum to me. For many DAW users 16GB is too low as well. An M1 Pro with 16GB-32GB or M1 Max with 32GB 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 the 64GB M1 Max. I would venture very few will need more than 64GB, but if you do, you need a desktop Mac Studio M1 Ultra to go to 128GB. If you need that much memory, you probably already know it.
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. 5% of the time when I do need portable computing, I don’t need the super 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.
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 M1 Pro and M1 Max processors in the 14″/16″ MacBook Pros are very similar to all other M1 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.
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 Pro and the M1 Max. 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 Pro is the all around value sweet spot, M1 Max is the all around performance peak for laptops, period. Both the M1 Pro and the M1 Max 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 pair 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.
The first Logic Pro benchmark comes from ‘Which MacBook Should You Buy in 2022 (Avoid These Ones!)‘ video located in the YouTube section farther down this page. This benchmark shows three different M1 Pro’s performance. The 14″ 8 CPU core model has 14 GPU cores and 16GB memory. The 14″ 10 CPU core model has 16 GPU cores and 16GB memory. The 16″ 10 CPU core model has 16 GPU cores and 16GB memory.
To compare the M1 Max to the M1 Ultra, the second Logic Pro benchmark comes from the ‘The TRUTH about the M1 Ultra Mac Studio vs MacBook Pro..’ video located in the YouTube section farther down this page. The MacBook Pro M1 Max 32GB is a 10 CPU cores, 32 GPU cores model, the Mac Studio M1 Ultra 64GB is a 20 CPU cores, 48 GPU cores model, and the Mac Studio M1 Ultra 128GB is a 20 CPU cores, 64 GPU cores model.
Note the tracks in all these Logic Pro benchmarks are not necessarily real world loaded but I think you can see all of these systems go way beyond Intel DAW performance. All the benchmarks above noted, there is no need to push your DAW to 1 track short of a crash. No need to completely dog out the CPU, ha! Real world loaded, I would feel very comfortable throwing 70 tracks at the MacBook Pro M1 Pro 8 core model, 103 tracks at the MacBook Pro M1 Pro 10 core model, 120 tracks at the MacBook Pro M1 Max 10 core model, or 210 tracks at the Mac Studio M1 Ultra 20 core model. The numbers would be comparable for Ableton Live or 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 M1 compliant as soon as possible.
Again, for DAW performance any of these configurations will more than satisfy for years to come for the average musician. 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 users that need more, and you likely know who you are.
Check software compatibilities
It should go without saying, but I’m gonna say it anyway. M 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 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.
All that said, my personal experience has been very good. Everything I use runs natively on M Series and is compatible with Monterey. But don’t listen to me, do your homework!
My personal experience with Ventura has also 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
I do wish these MacBook Pros had an Ethernet RJ-45 and a legacy USB-A port, but that will be probably never. The 3 Thunderbolt/USB-C ports on the MacBook Pro are likely adequate for most, and 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. I would theorize that in portable mode you will not need more ports than are built in the MacBook, but in the studio you may.
You may want a USB-C to Ethernet RJ-45 adapter. You will want to plug your interface directly into USB-C or if you can’t do that, get a hub or adapter also for legacy USB-A 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.
MacBook 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 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.
The MacBook Pro M1 Pro & M1 Max have 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 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
Yehuda Rothschild Apple MacBook Pro M1 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 MacBook Pro M1 Pro & M1 Max
Updated periodically – Apple MacBook Pro M2 Pro & M2 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 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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