You’ve decided to put together a home or small studio. You have a few artists lined up to work with, and an artistic vision for how their music could end up sounding. Before you can make the next hit, however, you’ll need to put together a studio — and the first step in putting that studio together is finding a computer for your recording.
There are dozens of computer models out there that work fine for recording, but before buying there are a number of things to consider. For example, you’ll want a computer that has enough power to handle the recording software, plugins, and actual recording, that you’re going to put it through. Spec-wise, we recommend buying a computer with at least a 6th-gen Intel Core i5 processor and 4GB of RAM. It’s definitely worth buying a computer with enough solid-state storage to run the operating system and store your sessions. Any inactive sessions that you’re done working on can always be moved to the cloud or to an external hard drive. You’ll also want to think about operating system — we’re not going to get into the Mac vs PC debate here, but you likely know which operating system you prefer, and you should buy a device with that operating system.
No matter what you’re looking for from a computer for recording, there should be something in this list for you. Here are the best computers for recording.
Best recording computer overall: Apple Mac Mini
Apple has a history of building ultra high-quality computers that work great for creative work. While the humble Mac mini often gets forgotten, given its recent revamp we think it’s the best computer for small and home studios — and for plenty of reasons. The computer comes with some pretty awesome specs under the hood. In the base model, you’ll get an 8th-gen Intel Core i3 processor coupled with 8GB of RAM and 128GB of storage, though it can be configured to up to a 6-core Intel Core i7 with a massive 64GB of RAM and 2TB of storage. We recommend at least upgrading the computer to offer the Intel Core i5 chip for home recording. On the back, there are more than enough ports for studio use — you’ll get four Thunderbolt 3 ports, two USB ports, a HDMI port, and more. Safe to say, while small, this computer is a beast in the studio.
Best Windows recording computer: Dell XPS Tower 8930
Perhaps you’re more of a Windows fan, in which case we think it’s worth considering the Dell XPS Tower 8930. Dell has built a reputation for itself over the years, and for good reason. The Dell XPS Tower 8930 comes with an 8th-gen Intel Core i7 processor, along with 16GB of RAM and dual 256GB solid-state and 1TB HDD drives. It can be configured, however, to include up to 64GB of RAM and 2TB of solid-state storage. The computer even comes with an NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1060 graphics card — though you probably won’t need fancy graphics for recording. When it comes to ports and connectivity, the Dell XPS Tower 8930 offers six USB 3.1 ports, a HDMI port, two USB-C ports, and more.
Best budget recording computer: Acer Aspire TC-885 Desktop
Not everyone has over a thousand dollars to spend on a computer, but thankfully there are some decent computers for those people too. Like, for example, the Acer Aspire TC Desktop. The computer may not be as powerful as other options on this list, but it still has a ton to offer — including an 8th-gen Intel Core i5 processor, 8GB of RAM, and a 1TB hard drive, If you have a little extra cash after buying the computer, we do recommend giving it a solid-state drive too — but initially, the hard drive should be perfectly fine. Port-wise, the computer offers four USB 2.0 ports, two USB 3.1 ports, and one USB-C port, as well as a HDMI output and more.
Best recording laptop: Apple MacBook Pro 15
Want a laptop that can handle the majority of basic recording and have some cash to burn? The 15-inch Apple MacBook Pro is the computer to go for — and not just because it looks great. The MacBook Pro is available in two sizes — a 13-inch and a 15-inch, though the 15-inch is a little more powerful than the smaller model. The base 15-inch model comes with a 6-core Intel Core i7 processor, 16GB of RAM, and a 265GB solid-state drive, but it can be upgraded to a whopping 8th-gen Intel Core i9 processor, 32GB of RAM, and a 4TB solid-state drive. When it comes to ports, the computer has four Thunderbolt 3 ports and a headphone jack — so unless you get a Thunderbolt 3-compatible interface, you’ll probably need to get an adapter or two.
Best Windows recording laptop: Lenovo ThinkPad P72
The Lenovo ThinkPad range of computers is known for quality and power — and the latest ThinkPad models are no exception to that rule. The base model of the ThinkPad P72 comes with a powerful 8th-gen Intel Core i7 processor, along with 8GB of RAM and a 256GB solid-state drive — though you can upgrade the computer to offer up to an Intel Xeon E processor, 16GB of RAM, and a 512GB solid-state drive. When it comes to connectivity, you’ll get three USB 3.1 ports, a headphone jack, a Mini DisplayPort, and an SD card reader.
Best budget recording laptop: Acer Aspire 5
If you want a great recording laptop on a budget, then we recommend the Acer Aspire 5, which starts at a relatively affordable $529.99. The base model of the Acer Aspire 5 offers a 7th-gen Intel Core i5 processor, coupled with 8GB of RAM and a 1TB hard drive, though you can upgrade the computer to include up to an 8th-gen Intel Core i7 processor, 12GB of RAM, and two hard drives, including a 1TB hard drive and a 256GB solid-state drive. If you can afford one of the models with a solid-state drive, then we definitely recommend doing so. You’ll also get two USB 2.0 ports, one USB 3.0 port and one USB 3.1 port. You’ll also get a HDMI port.