Think about this real quick, most of the music we hear on the radio today has been produced, recorded, mixed and mastered all on a computer of some sort.
Whether it was a laptop or a stationary computer, it was all done via a computer.
What does this mean for you? You can do the same, I have, and thousands of other musicians have and continue to do it every day. It’s convenient, its fast, its cheap and it sounds incredible!
The best laptop for music production under $500 ultimate guide has everything you need to understand what you need, and why?
For me, I have recorded music on both a Mac and a PC. I can tell you the things I like and don’t love about both.
But as you read below, I put together a list of MUST have computer specs if you want to produce music on your laptop.
Table of Contents
- 1 Top Sellers
- 2 History of recording devices before computers
- 3 Recording music on a laptop is the way to go.
- 4 Here are a few more reasons you should go this route
- 5 Computer specs you need to know.
- 6 What’s going to work for you?
- 7 Our Favorite laptops
- 8 Best Laptops For Music Production Under 500
- 9 Apple MacBook Pro MJLQ2LL Review
- 10 Apple iMac MF885LL/A 27-Inch Desktop
- 11 Dell XPS13 Ultrabook Computer
- 12 Record music on your laptop
- 13 Some other things I recommend for home recording studios
- 14 To wrap up and conclude
History of recording devices before computers
My experience with recorded music goes way back to the good old days of recording to tape. I got my first Fostex 4-track recorder in high school. I built an isolation booth in my bedroom closet and started recording music.
It was amazing. My band then recorded music at the local studio in town. And that’s where I fell in love with the Tascam 388 8-track recorder. From then I have been in significant studios that were once all reel-to-reel tape-based recording.
I would say close to all studios have since either stopped using tape to record or now accompany tape and a computer to make music. And why not, its way more efficient and cheaper to use and sounds pretty impressive as well!
Recording music on a laptop is the way to go.
This goes back to my experience with recording on my 4-track. It was portable and cheap to use. The same goes for a laptop. However, a computer has sophisticated software that can shape your sound and change things for the better in a mix.
Take this for example, have you ever taken a photo and you liked it but wanted to bring out the colors a little more? So you put the picture in a piece of software, push a button, and BOOM it is like 50% better than before.
That’s how I look at recording on a laptop.
I think the kick drum sound is OK, but let me tweak it and double the track up real quick, and wow, that kick drum is much better. I love that, and it only takes a few moments to tweak the software.
It indeed is a way to easy these days to make music on a computer.
OK let me shoot a few more facts out before we get to the reviews…
Here are a few more reasons you should go this route
Unlimited tracks! OK, what does that mean. This means you can isolate as many tracks of music as you want.
Back in the day, you were limited, and it took some sever creativity to record a full band onto only 4-tracks of tape. You know, for instance, the Beatles of the Beach Boy’s, all had to be super creative in how that got done. It took hours and hours and lots’ of paid producers and engineers to make it work.
You don’t need to worry about all that anymore. That’s the thing; I use 40-50 tracks for the average 5-piece band I record.
It’s up to you how many tracks you want.
Don’t like the room sound? Pick up and go to another place, you can! You can make any room your new studio, and why not. You see, you need to experiment with different rooms to get the sound you’re looking for.
Recording music on a laptop is a significant part of it, and yes you can use the recording software to change the sound of anything.
But, with the portability of a laptop, experiment with how rooms react to your vocals and record it. The sound of the room can change the dynamics of your instrument.
Computer specs you need to know.
Trying to figure out if want a PC or a Mac, keep this guide in mind. Especially the critical ones (RAM, HD, and Processor speed)
- Budget – You can get a great laptop for $600 if you follow these steps, but If money isn’t an issue, you should invest in the great Laptop.
- Monitor – How big is the monitor? For recording music, you need at least 14″ screen. I use a 17″ because I have more tracks of music going at once.
- Hard Drive(HD) – You’re going to need at least 120 GB, but go significant, keep in mind you can always get an external HD super cheap these days.
- Processor – DO NOT SKIMP ON THIS ONE (This is your computer’s brain, and for recording music, it needs to be a good one.) Here’s why, recording music with simultaneous tracks going, and on top of that you will have plug-ins added to each track to enhance the quality, like reverb, etc. With this in mind, does that sound like a lot to do? Heck yes, it is, and that’s why it is really important to get a great processor. You don’t want to bog down every other second.
- RAM (Random Access Memory) – Also super important for recording music, You need as much RAM as you can get. At the very least 8GB, but if you can upgrade if not right away, then somewhere after you buy your computer. I would go for at least double that so that 16GB would be epic.
- INPUTS AND OUTPUTS – Make sure you know what comes on your computer and how many there are. USB ports, HDMI, media card, etc.)
- DVD – More and more laptops are being made without a DVD drive, I personally really like to have one on board. But if you don’t, just know that you will be downloading hours of software for recording.
You could get something for around $600. You can also try to put together your laptop knowing the above information. But if I could give my advice, I would say go big. Spend at least $1000 to get a great machine.
That would give you the best laptop for music production and more. You won’t regret it, and soon you will be making epic music on your machine.
What’s going to work for you?
There is a difference, and it would be easier if there were only one laptop out there. But there a 100’s and I’ve narrowed it down to you. But first I want to stress the importance of the quality of the laptop.
All types of musicians use laptops, and I have seen this mac as the most popular one used. Why? They don’t crash, they are reliable, and they are made for music production.
Being a live sound engineer, I see lots of MACS. DJ’s, bands and house mixers use them. I ask them often, how do you like your mac. And they always say, it’s the best thing out there.
Imagine playing life or in the middle of a recording session and your laptop bogs down. That’s why they use macs; they are great machines.
But, I have seen PC’s used live too, so let’s not be biased. PC’s are great; I use them all the time. So, I can honestly tell you, just find a great machine and you’ll be set.
Our Favorite laptops
There will always be the argument MAC vs. PC for music. So, I’m going to list only 2 of the best, the mac and the pc. I’ve done the research, and I’m currently using one of them.
As I mentioned above, I kept those specs in mind when searching for my laptop. Price was a factor as I did set my budget for so much.
My favorite computers specifically for making music with are:
- 2015 Newest Model Dell XPS13 Ultrabook Computer
- Apple iMac MF885LL/A 27-Inch Desktop- <<——-My Personal Computer right now.—>>
- Apple MacBook Pro MJLQ2LL/A 15.4-Inch Laptop with Retina Display (256 GB)
The iMac isn’t a laptop, but it is portable and all in one unit. I like using it for music production as well as many other things I use it for. Photoshop, pro tools, video editing. So, that is my favorite pic. My second runner-up is the MacBook, without a doubt this is my favorite.
Best Laptops For Music Production Under 500
Apple MacBook Pro MJLQ2LL Review
This is a sweet laptop from Apple. The MacBook Pro has a powerful processor that was completely designed to reduce power consumption while boosting the performance.
Having a solid state hard drive has made a significant impact on the reduction of overall power. Also note, it gives off less heat too! This technology is 22 times faster than the typical hard drives. FAST FAST FAST! I like that there is not bog time in-between takes.
Thunderbolt ports deliver up to 20Gbps of bandwidth per device that is plugged into it. It moves data 4x faster than a USB transfer. In other words, if you’re uploading or transferring to an external hard drive, it’s going to be fast!
This would be the best laptop for music production in my opinion.
Using the specs I laid out above, here is where the MacBook lines up:
- Budget – $1500-1800
- Monitor – 15.4-inch screen with retina display
- Hard drive – 256GB Solid State Hard Drive
- Processor – 2.2GHz quad-core Intel Core i7 processor (Crystalwell), Turbo Boost up to 3.4GHz
- RAM – 16GB 1600MHz RAM
- INPUTS – 2 Thunderbolt inputs
- DVD – NO, but you can add when externally
When it comes to recording music on a laptop, this is the one I highly recommend. It’s a great machine with a lot of power. So important when editing music. I want to stress the point again.
When mixing, recording, or editing on a laptop, you don’t want the computer to stop and think all the time. I guarantee this one will be a smooth session almost always.
I also want to add that the retina display is really good. If I’m going to be staring at the monitor for hours on end, I want it to look good and not that dull looking screen on some computers. So, overall this laptop has beyond over the top display.
I love this laptop for recording music, and I would recommend this to anyone who wants to take it to the next level.
Apple iMac MF885LL/A 27-Inch Desktop
This is my personal computer. I do everything on this iMac now. It is not a laptop. However, I can pick it up and take it anywhere. It is an all in one unit. The computer is built into the monitor like a laptop.
The keyboard and mouse are wireless, running on blue tooth technology and a couple of batteries. I moved my pro tools software to this machine. Let me explain the power this has.
It is ultra slim, how the mac has done this I don’t know. But I love it! Taking up very little space it 6.9″ deep with the stand base on the bottom. It stands about 21″ high. My screen is 27″, but you can get a smaller one if you prefer. I say go big; you’ll thank me later.
It has a beautiful 5K display resolution. What this means is, do you have an HDTV and have seen some really good-looking HD movies, well times that by 7 and you’ll get the 5K display.
Fast i5 processor, dual-core or quad-core with turbo boost. Another fast computer that uses less energy, Apple has done it again!
It has four USB ports and Two Thunderbolt ports for super fast transferring.
Here is where the specs line up for the iMac MF885LL:
- Budget – $1100-2000
- Monitor – 27-inch screen with retina display
- Hard drive – 1TB 7200 rpm hard drive
- Processor – 3.3GHz Quad-Core Intel Core i5 Processor (Turbo Boost up to 3.7GHz)
- RAM – 8GB 1600MHz RAM
- INPUTS – 4 USB, 2 Thunderbolt inputs
- DVD – NO, but you can add when externally
I love this iMac, as many do. But its more than just a computer for music production, I use it for everything else. Graphic design, web design, Photoshop, etc. Movie editing and all that great stuff.
I can sync it with my iPhone and take my work with me or transfer it to the computer.
The price is a little lower than the MacBook Pro, and that is huge. Really for the money, this is portable, it is fast, it looks great and its a workhorse of a computer.
There is no doubt about it; Apple makes great computer especially for editing. I would recommend this computer for sure to anyone who wants to record music onto a mac. If your budget doesn’t allow you to get the laptop, go this route.
Dell XPS13 Ultrabook Computer
For the PC lover and someone who might not want to go the mac route, here is the Dell XPS13 Ultrabook Computer.
Why I like the Dell Ultrabook is the super slim, easily portable and it takes up less energy. Is it fast, yes it is thanks to a Solid State hard drive and the i5 processor.
For the price, this laptop is beautifully designed. What I like about it most is it is super portable. I love that because I go out to gigs or friends houses and cabins to record. I can flip the lid right out of the case, and my studio is set up and ready to go.
It has the power needed to record lots of tracks.
The display is really good too; Dell says it’s the worlds first infinity display (1920 x 1080).
Using the specs listed above, here is where the Dell lines up:
- Budget – $900-1000
- Monitor – 13.3″ Full HD (1920 x 1080)
- Hard drive – 128GB SSD
- Processor – 5th Generation Intel Core i5-5200U 2.2GHz with Intel Turbo Boost Technology up to 2.7GHz
- RAM – 4GB Dual Channel DDR3L-RS 1600Mhz UPGRADE TO 8GB Right away
- INPUTS – 2x USB 3.0,Mini Display Port ,Memory Card Reader ,Microphone Input / Headphone Output Combo Port , HDMI®
- DVD – NO, but you can add when externally
The battery should be noted here, it has an average battery life cycle of 15 hours, not bad if you need to be unplugged for a session, or you want to go edit at a coffee shop. Not likely, but you know, it has the power to do it.
I would recommend this laptop for music editing to anyone who is a proud PC user and wants to make music on it. It is nice and lite, fits right in your backpack, and you’re ready to go. For the price point too, you get a powerful computer.
Record music on your laptop
My favorite part of this article is talking about making music. You have endless amounts of fun things you can do to your music. Are you a one-person band?
No problem, check this out. You start with maybe a guitar part that you have always played, but by yourself. Ok record that track and now play it back. No, you hear yourself, and you start to strum a second part to the rhythm guitar. Nice, why not add some bass, maybe some keyboards.
Finally, you can add some vocals to your recording. Now it gets fun, double track it, and harmony’s whatever. It is endless what you can do on your laptop.
Making hip hop beats on your laptop is super easy using a midi keyboard and your software on the laptop. How that works is you start a looping track usually a 4/4 beat. Add kick/snare/kick/snare.
Cool, now that is looping back at you, add some high-hats. Nice, now add the bass line and boom! Super easy and fun. Now, spit fire at that loop, and you’re the next Kanye!
Some other things I recommend for home recording studios
So you have a laptop or not yet, you’ll need one. Besides your instruments, you might eventually want to invest in some other gear.
Things I had in my studio when I started were pretty simple, yet I needed them.
Microphones– yes, get yourself a decent microphone for recording. I’d spend about $100 on a condenser microphone. These are super lovely sounding mics; they pick up everything well. I’d also get a Shure sm-57, this is a workhorse microphone. We put these on snare drums because they sound good and can take a beating. Not that I recommend that, but they are hardcore.
Monitors – Studio monitors are different from headphone monitors. These are the loudspeakers that have a pretty balanced EQ. I started with a small pair of monitors that could barely make any good playback. So I bought a couple of Mackie monitor ones. So awesome, best monitors if you ask me.
Headphones – You need headphones, especially if you are isolating music. If you’re going to record vocals, then you need to be able to hear the music without the music being recorded. So, invest in at least one good headphone, and if you need extra, you can just get some cheap ones. But, get ONE good pair of headphones for sure.
Cables – You’re always going to need a few extra xlr cables for your microphones and maybe a guitar or midi cables. Conquest sound has the best prices online for cables. We buy all ours there for live music.
That’s just a quick little studio essential. There are way more things you can add as you go, but a few of those tips above might help you out as it did for me.
To wrap up and conclude
Ultimately it’s up to you what’s the best Laptop for music production is. I’ve used many different machines to record on in my 20+ years of music, including cheap laptops and high-end ones.
I have pointed out my Top 3 best laptops for music production. I threw in the iMac because why not. It’s not a laptop, but it is portable like a laptop. And to be honest, it feels like a more professional studio being set up.
If you don’t like the top 3, please just take the specs to guide with you to the store. That is the most important part of this article; you need to make the minimum requirements for a laptop at least to work well for you in the studio.
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Thanks again for stopping by home recording we appreciate it and feel free to leave a comment. Let us know what your best laptop for music production is. Now record some great music!