Air, Pro, or MacBook for Recording Music


My apologies: I’m quickly becoming a Mac Weak User with these types of questions. I’m looking to upgrade a late 2012 27" iMac that’s had its share of annoying but not crippling bugs since purchase (won’t sleep, won’t stop spinning, etc). I’ve nuked and paved multiple times and while the big symptoms seem gone, I don’t quite trust this machine. My aim on the upgrade is to increase portability so future bugs can be more easily addressed while I start to record some simple music in earnest. Toting the thing to the Geniuses if I need hand holding and/or to a friend’s to work on music projects isn’t fun with an iMac.

A couple friends that record professionally on older (not old, old) MBPs tell me an Air that’s maxed out (not with the max SSD) will handle Garage Band and/or Logic just fine. The set up will be a guitar into an audio interface into the machine. Likely through an OWC Thunderbolt 3 dock. Likely I’ll be double or triple tracking. My only concern here is that it’s moving fast enough that there’s no delay between when I pluck a string and it records. Otherwise, the machine will be driving two 27" Dell monitors and it’ll just be used for email, browsing, and typical browser based office stuff. TextExpander, SnagIt, 1Password, and the usual MPU power hitters.

It’s looking to me that that the MacBook is only good for the form factor and the Air is close enough to the Pro but significantly more affordable that the Air is the choice.

What do you all say?

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The MacBook can’t drive two external displays - unless you use something with an external GPU. My MacBook Air can drive two external displays, but as it only has two ports that uses both of them, so one would need to be a hub/dongle with multiple ports in order to let you charge the device as well as power both screens.

I’d suggest a 13" MacBook Pro with Touch Bar - just to give you more ports, and more power too.


I regularly use Logic successfully on an older MBP - 15’’ 2011 model. You will definitely be fine for low latency recording with any of the newest machines.

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On many occasions I recorded 24-32 simultaneous tracks of 48kHz/24-bit audio onto a spinning disk on my 2008 15" MacBook Pro and it took it like a champ. (many other occasions I used my much better-equipped 2008 Mac Pro for non-live settings… and of course, as time goes on my equipment and needs have changed considerably)

That said when it came to mixing, regardless of what machine I used to record, I was always using dual 24" monitors. DAWs are nothing if not screen real estate hogs!

In general if you are tracking 1 or 2 simultaneous inputs and running an amp simulator, an Air likely do the trick, especially if you are using a proper audio interface, which will considerably reduce the latency while you are recording no matter what computer you choose. A Pro will be better because it does have more CPU headroom.

I wouldn’t touch the MacBook for this task because, as @RosemaryOrchard mentioned, the ports alone limit its usability, but using amp simulators are CPU-intensive tasks and the MacBook’s CPU may be able to handle it, but not well enough given the other shortcomings.

No matter what you choose, with the exception perhaps of the Pro, you’re going to have to do a bit of resource management, such as printing/freezing already-recorded tracks so you limit the number of amp simulator instances you are running simultaneously, making sure you put any time-based effects on aux channels rather than as inserts, etc. All easy enough to do if you are aware of these strategies.

So long story short: Air will suffice, Pro will be better.

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If I wanted to record audio seriously, I’d get a hardware recorder and use the Mac for editing. See Jason Snell’s setup. [](http://A week of podcasting with only an iPad Pro)

See also: Six Colors Coverage of Podcasting

I would actually NOT recommend getting a hardware recorder if you are trying to do multi-track music recording. Especially since it appears this person wants to do some amp simulation etc. which requires real-time monitoring of a processed audio signal, which can’t necessarily be done with these hardware recorders (which also don’t run real-time plugins).

I would recommend recording through a dedicated audio interface (as many podcasters do – normally a 2-input unit like the Sound Devices one references by many podcasters, but you can get into 8/16/24/32 channel units for more serious recording needs) recorded directly onto a Mac running professional recording software (ProTools, Logic, Cubase, or even GarageBand in a pinch).

Recording to a hardware recorder will be nightmare for anything more than one or two simultaneous voice sources, and transferring audio from a hardware recorder to a Mac is not without effort and potential for error/loss.

In my experience if you start adding some plug-ins etc the hardware can be pushed to its limits pretty fast. Maybe soon you want to record a few tracks more (for drums e.g.) or you want some CPU hungry effect. I‘d go for the bigger machine if affordable.


Re-reading the original post, I see no mention of a need for live plug ins or real time amp simulations. He simply wants to record, right?

Recording a “flat” track or three should be fine on the Air, esp when routed through an audio interface that will do the conversion to digital. Any effects needed (amp or otherwise) can be added in the DAW when mixing and rendered nicely in less than real time if need be.

The main consideration would be the amount of ports needed imho, and of course the Pro would be snappier to work with and faster for live effects

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I’ve done some fairly heavy duty ProTools work on an early 2014 Mac Air. It’s possible, but I don’t suggest it… It would crash occasionally as I was editing and mixing. I never had any issues with recording a couple lines at a time though I was luckily able to utilize a studio for my larger projects.

Thank you everyone this is all a big help. As I scope these out, to what degree do I need to worry about processor and RAM?

The 13" MBP that @RosemaryOrchard recommends can be upgraded from 3.8 to 4.5GHz and 16GB Ram. That’s a faster processor with half the RAM I’ve got now. I have no idea what that means in a practical, handling sense.

Additional clarification: I’ll be using guitar pedals, so no real effects or plug-ins in the computer. Just amp simulation and maybe whatever tweakability there is as far as mic and mic placement assuming that’s even something I bother to figure out. We’re just talking one or up to three guitar tracks over each other. Maybe a click track if I need training wheels. Maybe we add in a digital drummer after the other stuff, but that’s way down the road and shouldn’t effect my primary concern of latency of playing along to the first track and the notes of my second track registering in time with the first.

Thanks again everyone!

With only audio going on and amp simulation, you’re going to be fine with anything new-ish. I’m running amp simulations, audio tracks, software synths, and fx plugins on my 2011 i7 MBP (with an SSD) and it has no issues.

Logic will take all the RAM you can throw at it, so if you want to be set for longer, I’d go for 16 GB for sure. I’ve got 8, and many times I’m pushing that limit.