Before you can even think about releasing your first quadruple-platinum album, you’ll need some way to record it. For years, big ‘ol tape machines ruled the recording world. I’ve got a buddy who laughs at how much much useless information from “the analog days” is taking up valuable space in his brain – things like like how to align a 2-inch tape machine.

While it used to take up to several hours just to set up the studio for recording (aligning tape machines, zeroing out the console, setting up the patchbay), now I can walk into my studio, flip on a power switch, double click on an icon, and I don’t even have time to make coffee before my studio is ready to start recording the next “Bohemian Rhapsody.”

Thank God for computers.

Sure, they bring in an entirely different level of complexity, but they allow the average Joe to spend a few hundred bucks and have (in many ways) the same capabilities as the big analog studios that cost thousands upon thousands of dollars. Having a “home recording studio” simply wasn’t feasible for most people twenty years ago. Now I’m amazed at the music we are able to produce from a bedroom in an apartment.

The other side of that coin, however, is that it becomes just as easy for horrible musicians to record themselves. This is a topic of another discussion for another day. I’m operating under the assumption that you are planning to use your home studio to make good music. Make good music.

So what computer should you get? The majority of the time, your home computer will have plenty of power to run most recording programs out there. I’m not going to give an exhaustive list of specs and requirements, because that changes every few months. For the purpose of this article, suffice it to say that you should consult the manufacturers’ websites. They all have a “minimum requirements” page that should be helpful, especially if you’re going to buy a new computer. Please, please, PLEASE do yourself a favor and research software requirements before buying your computer. You’ll be glad you did.

That being said, one HUGE thing you can do to beef up your current (or brand new) computer is add more RAM. RAM is where the magic happens. That’s where all your audio will be processed, so the more the merrier.

Mac or PC?

Ah, the age-old question. All the Mac guys are touting the superiority of their machines. All the PC guys are trying to prove that theirs are just as cool. I’m a Mac guy myself, but I’m not so naive as to think that owning a Mac is the only way you can possibly produce anything creative.

What I will say is this. One reason Apple computers tend to get the reputation of being more “stable” is because they’re all the same.

Think about it, how many stores do you know of that build Apple computers? None. They’re all built by Apple. They all have the same components. PCs, on the other hand, can be built by just about anyone. You could order the same computer (same processor speed, same amount of RAM) from Dell, Gateway, HP, and Walmart, and each one would be completely different from the next, even though they all have similar specs.

Of course, you can also build one yourself. You can order in parts and make this frankenstein beast, all for relatively little money.

If you were to buy all these computers mentioned above and install the same recording program on each, chances are it wouldn’t work on all of them. Heck, there’s a good chance it wouldn’t work well on any of them.

Why? Because recording software is much more demanding than a word processor program. Most PCs are built for office use, running spreadsheets, checking email, NOT streaming tons of audio data back and forth. Also, the computer (normally) needs to communicate with an external device (audio interface), which can prove to be troublesome. (After all, it’s hard to get your computer to see a printer sometimes, what about an audio interface with all sorts of ins and outs on it?)

This is why PCs have gotten a bad rap in the music industry. If I was a software developer, I would love to develop for Mac only. Why? Because I would only need to develop the software to work with a certain processor, motherboard, etc. I wouldn’t have to make various versions for each motherboard out there on newegg.com.

That being said, I wouldn’t completely write off PCs. As I mentioned earlier, chances are (with a little tweaking) you can get your PC to work well for recording. However, be ready to do some fiddling and handholding to get it working.

If you’re looking to buy a PC, then I would seriously suggest looking at one of Sweetwater’s Creation Stations. These are built from the ground up to work with all the major recording platforms out there. They’re a bit more expensive, but they’re made by folks who know music technology, AND they’re super quiet. I’ve heard of many a person building his own recording PC, only to find out that it sounds like a rocket ship taking off. Yep, that’ll pretty much ruin a recording.

So…which is better?

If you put a Mac and a good, comparable PC (like a Sweetwater Creation Station) side by side, you would not see much difference in performance. Those guys over in Silicon Valley have come up with some ridiculously fast processors, so there’s a lot you can do with computers today that you couldn’t even do five years ago, both on a Mac and a PC.

The Deciding Factor

I could build an entire website around the Mac vs PC debate, but I don’t want to. The biggest deciding factor for you is this – What software are you wanting to use?

It does you no good to research Macs when you want to use Sonar recording software (which is PC only). It’s just as bad to research PCs when you have your sites set on Digital Performer (which is Mac only).

I’ll get into the various recording platforms in the next article, so keep in mind that when thinking about a home recording studio, you need to think in terms of a system. Too much focus on one component could lead you down the wrong path if it doesn’t fit in with your vision for the entire system.

Keep that in mind as you read through these articles. My goal is to give you a well-informed spring-board, a good starting point as you develop your home studio.

  • Dheep’

    Sorry to say – Do NOT get a Sweetwater XPC or Creation Station. As a longtime,fairly happy Sweetwater customer – when it comes to these PC’s – GARBAGE – G*A*R*B*A*G*E*
    The Laptop was Very Expensive. VERY. Its was so noisy as to be unusable (Digital Noise). It was the power supply. After much hassling, they gave me a new Power supply. No Good ! The ONLY way I could record was on Battery Power & you all know how that works.
    On to a Creation Station – 200 lb Boat Anchor. Quieter? Yes. Usable ? Not that great.
    Get Guitar /Amps/Pedals /What have you? YES Computers for Recording? NO NO NO

    • Thomas Hall

      I saw your criticism of sweetwater creation station. Im interested cuz i purchased one, opened it and had an intuition that i needed to send it back and get a Mac. If you can elborate on you criticism, that could help me decide to return it. Things i noticed were: insane bulky size (why so huge?), the back panel was poorly fitted over the various plugs, which made me wonder about everything else was assembled, the fact that support service is included giving impression that i will need it — i really don’t want to need a support service. Based on your comment, seems you’ve used both creation station and Mac. If you have any more specific info please share. Is the Asus motherboard ok? I assume it is since Sweetwater chose it, but…i don’t know. Thanks

  • Abner Garcia

    What other good Mac softwares, if any, are out there besides ProTools?

  • Yolchie

    I’ve used both Mac and PC platforms for over 20 years for countless tasks e.g. programming, video, 3D modeling, photography, illustration, graphic design, GIS mapping, recording studio, etc. These days, my house is filled with BOTH for different applications. That being said, I have had WAAAAAY less issues running DAW software on a Mac. My studio is 100% Mac.

  • Jae

    I just purchased pro tools express will it work on a toshiba i dont yet because it has not arrived

    • You’ll have to check with them. They have all sorts of information on their website.

    • i use pro tools 10 on my Toshiba Satellite P755 // intel quad core i7 with windows 7. Its a couple years old, but it works great, hope that helps

  • Aguila

    what’s best? more RAM or a faster processor? I have found on the internet that a faster processor is much more efficient than tons of RAM. does that also work for music software and reocrding?

    • I’d go processor. RAM is easily upgradable, not processors.

    • MC Shawn Resh

      Hi Aguila. In my opinion, the RAM plays an important role when it comes to recording. The more RAM’s, the faster your PC will be, with a minimum running of DUAL CORE Processing units. Moreover, a good Audio Interface plays an important role as well and most of it works pretty decent. So, MAC or PC? it doesn’t really matter. Best Regards 🙂

  • Tim

    And today, you should think about a linux-based Solution with Ardour3 as your DAW. Especially if you’re technically educated you will love Ardour3! 🙂

    Btw, thanks for this nice blog 😉

  • DAGOLD

    Hello,
    my. Cubase 5 skips and jump while recording. I use delta 1010 lt. With
    500 gyg hard disk, 3.5 gyg ram and dual core HP desktop computer. Please
    anyone to help me out with the solution

    • Might wanna call tech support?

      • Roustam

        And get yourself ripped off.

  • orangebuddha

    just came across this blog. nice work pulling it together. I’ve got both a Mac and windows laptop, i use ableton for the DAW (on both mac and windows 7) and focusrite for the audio interface. I was going to comment that i’ve had no issues with either laptop. Both worked straight away with no issues. Then scrollng down the comments i realised how old the blog was. I’m guessing you don’t want to update it for the times, so i’m just going to add my 2 cents in and say nowadays either mac or windows is fine.

  • Jimi

    “The other side of that coin, however, is that it becomes just as easy
    for horrible musicians to record themselves….Make good music”. —-> The beauty of the technology like you said, it’s that it’s so accessible these days. So why still act like an elitist asshole about it? And you meant that part; it wasn’t ‘just a joke’. Anybody can make whatever music they like – that’s what’s so cool about it 🙂 I will be making extra horrible music, cos that’s they way I like it! So don’t judge me man!!!

    • I don’t agree it’s elitist. There’s bad music in the world, just like there are bad baseball teams. I wouldn’t have created this site if I was elitist. I’m here to help people make better music, better recordings. I’m here because I also want to make better music, better recordings.
      We’re on the same team here, Jimi.

    • Fred ellsworth

      Hey Jimi, I think the two of you agree. This tech has allowed certain doors to be opened for guys like you and me that NEVER would have been opened before. However, there are a pile of non musician types out there that spend no time at all learning a musical craft and just dive right in. Good for them for doing that but music is an art. You know that.
      Give Joe a shot here. Good guy just trying to pass on some knowledge

  • Emerson

    Still, after more than enough crashes and looking for files, problems with updates, corrupted projects, bussing hell and the genocide-enducing temptation to continuously “fix” stuff, I’m considering buying a 16 or 24 track tape machine.

    Apart from that, I think everyone should use a tape machine at least a couple of times in their recording life, or record to one – if you’re a musician it just makes you play better.

    • A tape machine would be super fun. Or something like a RADAR.

  • Shawn

    If you can afford it, a Mac Pro is the ONLY way to go for sure. Otherwise, any other Mac is almost as good i think.

    http://ehomerecordingstudio.com/home-studio-desks/

  • Subshot

    A good idea is building your own and tweaking it for music production

  • Bob B

    I’ve long been a PC guy and run winxp and linux on various self-built systems, except my laptop (mbp w/Ableton). With a recent upgrade to Cubase5 I need to replace my primary studio machine and would automatically go macPro of it weren’t for a common opinion that Cubase runs more efficiently on PC/MS platform. Thoughts?

  • If you’re planning on getting a PC make sure you purchase music ready PC form companies below:

    http://www.rainrecording.com/
    http://www.adkproaudio.com/

    The reason is to avoid conflicts such as drivers,bad bios,motherboard.Each PC is different.That’s why most producers in the studio use mac.It doesn’t mean that PC won’t get the job done.

  • mac vs pc

    My comparison:

    MAC:
    more expensive than pc
    not many upgrades can be done
    less conflict resistant system ( all macs are build the same)
    not all vst plugins and sequencers are made for mac
    With the Mac you get it one way, the way it works, right out of the box. All motherboards come from Apple. The OS comes from Apple. Apple puts together all the machines after a lot of testing. There is far less of a chance of failure. If things do go bad its not so hard to find the culprit. Adding a peripheral or installing software to a Mac is rarely difficult. It is rather amazing how little one does to maintain the machine. That alone makes the Mac “worth it” for many people and it more than offsets any gains made by tweaking a BIOS.I think most Mac users don’t even think about those issues, sort of like the way computing was in the early 90’s, but now with nothing slowing down your internet travels.

    PC:
    are cheaper
    in the long term upgradeable
    PC’s are harder to deal with
    With so many different motherboards on the market and several different chipsets controlling things, conflicts are more likely to arise. Vendors of PC parts typically release products before they are finished and expect you to update them when you uncover the problems.
    Is it a hardware issue? BIOS setting? A driver? The PCI slot in which you installed the soundcard? Or is it in the registry? A virus? Worm? Service Pack incompatibility? You may have to check out “everything” and boot and reboot 3, 10, or in the case of a nightmare issue, 50 times before you get it solved.

    Both platforms have their advantages and disadvantages. It may boil down to budget, how productive you want to be, your clients, choice or sequencer, or a preference on your part. What? You want me to tell you what to do? I already told you: Get Both!

    • Johnnie

      Somebody give this guy a live shoutout on TV.. Beautifully said
      *Copies and pastes to facebook*

  • merch

    its unfortunate that pcs have gotten a bad name, but in many cases its well deserved, most pcs bought online or on the high street are built with cheap components and are not designed for any specific use (like audio recording).

    but looking from another angle… if you are willing to do some research, you can custom build a pc dedicated to whatever you want. i built my own pc as a dedicated audio workstation, and know for a fact that its better than any currently available mac for audio recording/producing

    so what i say is this:

    if you want a machine that does the job without fuss, and dont know (or want to know) much about computers, then macs are unbeatable. but if you know your way around computers and are willing to research specific components, then i would advise getting a pc

    if you do build a pc, go for a tower (only get a laptop if you need to move your studio around), and pay particular attention to the memory, as badly chosen memory can cause horrible system bottlenecks, and adding more ram (which a lot of people think is the answer to everything) wont always solve the problem. go for a case designed for audio with ultra quiet fans and damped drive bays, water cooled systems are silent running but expensive (my fan based system is inaudible)

  • Hey Joe,

    I really liked you approach to this never-ending question. I liked it so much that this is what I tell people nowadays. Just wrote a blog article about your post and things are heating up on my Facebook page….

  • Well, if it’s about music both are woth it… good softwares, stability etc…
    I used to have PCs for a long time, then turned to Mac… and don’t want to change… even if I lack that wonderful software, wavelab….anyway…

    the main point with Mac is I don’t have to defrag disks, I don’t have to deal with firewalls and anti viruses, I mostly don’t have to deal with drivers installs and updates… still have to update on Macs, of course, but not that often…

    Computers are tools, i’m just glad I have less “maintenance” with macs…

    • Well put. 🙂 Thanks for the comment!

    • kn

      What kind of mac should I use for recording? I’m shopping for one now 🙂

      • Honestly, any new Mac will be great. Just depends on if you need portability (MacBook Pro) or not (iMac’s are awesome).

  • No need to feel you’re defending MS here, man. Despite your impression of my post, or of the article, not being reflective of your positive Windows experiences…each has to follow their own experience I think. For my part, I find this site and others like it extremely helpful in basic studio concepts, Pro Tools tutorials, and other tasks I’m doing on my Wintel box.

    I think there’s plenty of room for all OS, whatever people choose to use and get art made one. I’m a 12-yr MCSE (well, moved to MCITP last year) and designing networks in the MS realm has me seeing good and bad in all 3 OS. I’ve had to support them on various projects, and I know nothing’s perfect and it’s all in what your own experience is, I 100% agree.

    Your “you are comparing apples/oranges…beta OS” argument gets the nod here too man: I was definitely in uncharted waters for drivers, and it’s not a fair comparison. I didn’t go in expecting zero troubles w/ Win 7 and my PMIO, but I will say my Yamaha AW1600 & Sonar worked perfectly on Win7, as does every bit of hardware I’ve owned in the last year. So I kind of hopeed the M-Audio gear/drivers would work too. 🙁 But retailers start selling Win7 RTM Win7 in a few weeks, I know to be patient as this will be fixed.

    After I re-configured my DAW to dual-boot XP/7 (to get the PMIO working) I still had an odyssey of steps I had to follow (reghacks, installation order/steps) that just didn’t seem necessary for my MAC friend using the same audio hardware/same version of Pro Tools M-Powered. This is just my own personal experience, yes, and I acknowledge yours has been different with Korg, Mackie etc on a production OS.

    Like you say, we each have to go on our personal experience here. I’m not speaking to your experience or others, but when I start to look outward beyond my own experiences….it’s a fair statement that I see studio engineers, folks “in the biz”, and hobbyists at home preferring the MAC for various reasons.

    There’s no end to the OS preference bias in the music world, to each our own. But I think there’s room for any OS we want to use: if we get rolling happily with minimal problems, that’s awesome. Make art, it doesn’t matter what platform you’re using because if you’re happy with it that’s all that matters.

    Cheers! -J

    • Hey guys. I think you both make really good points. Thanks! I think this is why God created comments.

      • fistikuffs

        Well to be honest, reading back over my comments, i seem to be a bit of pain in the neck!! In fairness neither of your experiences can be discounted especially when held up against my limited experience. And maybe I have some Mac envy too!

        But hey if anyone is considering buying a system for audio application then consider all avenues. To be honest I’ve never heard much complaints from Mac users and everyone knows Windows horrible limitations, however, as I think the article points out, both systems will work it just comes down to your particular requirements.

        Great site by the way…

        • Thanks fistiuffs. I’m glad to have you around. Keep voicing your opinions! This back and forth debating can really help people think through things. I’m all for it!

  • fistikuffs

    Ok Julian you have to admit that you are not comparing like for like in your example. You compare an older established OS (Mac) with an OS that is only a beta release and then complain that the drivers don’t work in the beta OS. Is that a surprise? Anyone I know, who was setting up a rig, would not be trying to set it up on a beta OS unless if just for fun but certainly not a serious deployment. So that comparison is not fair and doesn’t add anything to the debate.

    As for configuring M-Audio/Digi stuff. Well I can’t say much about Digi (too poor!) but I have used a lot of M-Audio stuff and it is a well established fact that all M-Audio drivers are rock solid. No doubt about that. Especially when used on a supported OS. In my personal experience, and that’s all I have to go on, M-Audio hardware and indeed plenty of Korg, Mackie hardware is easy to set up on Wintel and will give you many years trouble free running.

    I hate having to defend MS here because I think it’s the third worse OS out there. But the impressions giving by the article and your post is not reflective of my experience and many others too I’m sure.

  • In my line of work I get to (almost) equally use both MAC & Windows platforms regularly (mostly recently a Win2008 sharepoint server farm, and Windows 7 deployment testing).

    From my experience I can see why musicians, engineers, and hobbyists prefer the MAC. I recently worked with a friend in getting PT8 M-Powered set up on his MAC along with an M-Audio ProjectMix I/O. He was up and recording a scratch track in about an hour. I eventually bought a PMIO too, and my experience on my Wintel box was an absolute weeklong disaster (partly because I was trying to get it to work under Windows 7 RTM, drivers aren’t ready yet and you can’t use ADAT outboard pres on a PMIO until M-Audio fixes it on Win7, argh!). With the MAC, the old Apple “it just works…” applied here. I’ve heard similar stories with getting a Digi 003 and other gear working. Like Joe said, more often there seems to be extra drama configuring M-Audio or Digi stuff on PCs. Sure, Wintel people’s experiences may be entirely painless too, all depends on the situation.

    But yeah…PC folks will create art, MAC folks will create art…at the end of the day good grooves get made no matter the platform.

  • fistikuffs

    Ok some good advice but i would have to say that your mac fanboyism is shining through. The downsides you present for pc’s only really apply if your considering running Win 95 or something like that, i mean any audio interfaces available for pc normally have good drivers and will run without trouble. My current pc has had all sorts of audio interfaces installed from an Creative AWE 64 to a M-Audio Delta 44 to its current interface, a Mackie Onyx 1620 with FW. All have been totally realiable in a PC/Windows enviroment. Now don’t get me wrong: I truly hate windows and I’d imagine i would enjoy using a Mac for audio (but never have) and I am patiently waiting for linux to get up to speed (supports the Mackie now sort of!!) which in fairness might be a long wait. But the impression you give regarding pc’s is not really fair. You could have picked a multitude of reasons to explain why Win/Pcs are shit instead of the non-issues you picked.

    Anyway good article, I’m only nit-picking coz I’ve no dope!

    • Thanks for the comment, Fistikuffs! Perhaps you’re right that my Mac preferences are shining through. However, I’ve dealt personally with hundreds of home studio owners, and many of them have issues with a run-of-the-mill PC and their recording gear. I’m not trying to paint an unfair picture, I’m just speaking from personal experience. I spent 40 hours a week for 3 years working directly with home studio owners, and these are my findings. (I was in sales at Sweetwater, and I dealt with well over 4,000 customers. I think that qualifies as a pretty good sampling of home studio owners.)

      You’re right, for every PC user that has issues, there are probably several that don’t have any problems. I’m glad your experience has been so good! But, I feel that to be fair I need to relate my own experiences, which is — as I say in the article — PCs are just as good as Macs, but they oftentimes require a bit more “hand-holding” to get up and running.

      • fistikuffs

        Thanks for the reply Joe. And as I can see from your response your certainly not talking through your hat, but instead from experience. But you know I’ve never had to contact a vendor for support or any other form of support other than forums online so I wonder if it would be fair to say that maybe a lot of the people you had to deal with were not very good on computers to begin with? And following on from that maybe the article should have had a caveat something like:

        If you are good with computers and know how to maintain a pc then a Windows environment would offer a more cost effective and highly scalable solution? With huge compatability with all types of software/hardware configurations?