What type of computer do you need to record music at home?


photo of headphone and amplifier

The easiest way to capture your voice or instruments is to use a computer. There can be some confusion about which type of computer to use. In this post we will look at some of the options available to see which one suits your needs.

What type of computer do you need to record music at home? Both Windows and Mac based computers can be used to record music at home. Which one you choose will depend your specific needs, recording style and budget, but they are each capable of producing high-quality recordings.

Windows Based PC or Laptop

There are thousands of Windows based computers readily available to record music or voice in your home studio. Most of them run the popular versions of recording software, but it does pay to invest in a powerful processor to allow you to record without buffering or long processing times.

You may be tempted to build your own PC from the ground up, but most ‘out of the box’ PC’s will work fine.

Macbook Air, MacBook Pro or iMac

Macs tend to be slightly pricer than Windows based computers, but they are the most popular choice for both amateur and professional recording studios.

The latest models of Macbooks (Pro and Air), and iMacs are capable of running some of the most sophisticated professional DAWs (Digital Audio Workstation) available. The amazing Garageband comes as standard with most Macs and is a fantastic piece of software – capable of capturing instruments and vocals, mixing them and outputting your creations to various formats – and best of all, it’s FREE.

Things to look for:

  • Solid build with a low vibration
  • Low noise – silent fans are a must
  • Minimum 8gb ram
  • SSD Hard Drive – silent and fast
  • Plenty of inputs (usb sockets)
  • A large screen makes it easier to edit recordings
  • Keyboard – avoid mechanical as they are too loud
  • Mouse – choose one with a soft low noise click

Keeping The Noise Down

Not all computers are quiet. We’ve put together some things to look out for when looking at buying your next computer for recording.

In a professional studio the computer and all the noisy gear is in another room behind layers of soundproofing and thick sheets of glass. At home, you have everything on the one desk. Reducing or eliminating noise is a priority when choosing a computer and accessories. You do not want to be wasting time removing background noises and buzzing from your recordings.

Solid Build

Some desktop PC’s look amazing, but are badly built. If it starts to vibrate, you probably have something loose or it is poorly constructed. This noise will find its way into your recordings and will evetually irritate you.

Silent Fans

Fans are essential to keep your processor and all the components cool. Old fans were noisy. Fan manufacturers are always competing to provide maximum cooling with the lowest noise and vibration.

Memory (RAM)

The more memory (RAM) you have, the faster your computer will process information and calculations. Music recording software runs multiple processes at the same time, so having lots of memory can keep it running fast.

RAM has become affordable as manufacturers compete, so try to buy as much as you can afford.

Hard Drive – HD vs SSD

Traditional HD hard drives can be very loud with noisy bearings and vibration. SSD drives are virtually silent, have no moving parts and don’t require extra fans for cooling. They also appear to be much more reliable – meaning you won’t lose your precious work – although we always recommend doing regular backups.

Inputs

You need input sockets to connect devices to your computer. It seems there are new types of sockets added every year and manufacturers rush to create devices that make use of them. The most common socket is the USB but even that comes in a variety of sizes – USB 2, USB 3, USB-C…

I always buy a computer with at least 4 USB sockets then use a USB interface to allow the addition of devices with different socket types. Bluetooth connectivity may be included with some devices, but I still prefer a good old cable.

Screen / Monitor

The larger the screen, the more you can easily see. Simple. Recording software like Garageband and Logic Pro X can easily fill your screen with filters, tracks. menus, EQ, levels, racks, sliders and much more. If you are using a small screen, you are going to struggle. Add to the that your chat windows, internet and other apps and you start to see how a small screen can lead to chaos.

You need everything you are using visible on your screen at all times. Stopping to flick between windows will distrurb your workflow and if you are anything like me likely lead to something being closed that was essential.

Laptops (Macbook / Windows) – Minimum screen size: 15 inches

Desktop (Mac / Windows) – Minimum screen size: 21 inches

We recommend an iMac with a 27 inch screen. It makes recording and editing so much easier and allows you to access all your essential tools on one screen.

Tablets (Android / Windows / iPad) – As big as you can afford

Phones – yes, some people manage to record everything on their phones. While this may work great with podcasts, vocal interviews and vloggers, it’s not practical for music production and editing. Why make life hard for your self? Get a nice macbook or desktop PC and a comfy chair. Recording and editing takes time, do it in comfort.

Two Screens – this is the best option for most recording studios. One screen for your main recording software, the other for feeds, chats, input controllers and the internet. Always keep your main screen clutter free. Most computers will allow you to add a second screen – either by cable or wireless.

Keyboard

Gamers love mechanical clicky keyboards – but if you listen close you will here that tap tap sound in the background while they are streaming. You do not want that getting into your music or vocal mix. Choose a soft click keyboard (the Mac ones are fantastic).

A backlit keyboard can be very useful if you prefer to work in low light conditions. Some offer the ability to customise the colour of individual keys which could save lots of time when using keyboard shortcuts to edit mixes.

Mouse

Just like your keyboard, your mouse can be noisy. There are lots of soft click options available. A good soft mouse mat will help reduce the noise of the mouse being dragged across the desk.

What do Home Recording Expert use?

For our mobile studio recordings, we use a 2019 MacBook Pro with 2.3 GHz 8-Core Intel Core i9 and 16 GB 2400 MHz DDR4 RAM – it is virtually silent, so no background noise. The speed is breathtaking. It can easily cope with multiple tasks. It was an expensive investment, but one that has paid for itself many times.

Our main studio machine is a 27 inch iMac with an i7 processor and 32gb ram. The screen is gorgeous and extremely easy to read. We swapped out the fusion drive for an SSD drive as their was some latency issues when reading and writing to the original hard drive.

We also run a Windows desktop PC with 32gb RAM and two 27 inch screens. This is great for producing DJ tracks and live streaming. The PC body sits under the desk on top of a thick piece of foam to reduce vibrations. All the fans are silent and the hard drive is SSD. You wouldn’t even know it was switched on.

Alternatives

iPad

We don’t have a great deal of experience using iPads in the recording studio setting, but the latest versions are extremely powerful and can be linked up to external devices. iPads in the past only allowed for wireless or bluetooth connectivity to midi devices and audio interfaces, but the delay (latency) was always an issue. We are looking forward to trying out the new iPads soon and will post a review as soon as we do.

Android Tablets

There are some amazing apps for music creation – and many of them are completely free. If you are a DJ, there are some brilliant sound pads and mixer interfaces available. Our only issue with tablets has been the lack of connectivity of external devices with minimal latency. But like the iPads, we will keep an eye out for something in the android tablet line that addresses this problem.

Conclusion: You do not need to break the bank to purchase a computer for your studio, but you do need something reliable, fast and silent. You may even find that your exising PC or MAC is up for the job.

Whatever you choose, buy it and get on with creating your music or vocals. Try not to get caught up in all the tech. Too many people waste a lot of time studying the endless options available. Truth is, just about any modern computer will have more than enough power and resources needed to record and produce your work. The computer is just a tool to help you get your unique talent out there – so buy the best you can afford and start recording!

Stephen @ Team HRE

A professional bass player and singer, Stephen has over 30 years experience in the music industry playing at all levels. He has spent most of those years in recording studios working with some of the best producers and musicians.

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