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Whether you are an at-home audio hobbyist or a seasoned and professional Pro Tools operator, everybody yearns for the optimum working environment to produce music. Over the next few weeks I’ll take you through the various components of the digital audio workstation and offer some suggestions for maximizing its performance.

This is by no means the end-all-be-all of how-tos on the subject and I invite all of you readers out there to contribute to the body of knowledge with your personal expertise. As for me, I can only speak from my own experience as a professional audio engineer. So please offer your opinions or questions in the comments below if you are so inclined.

I should admit right off the bat that I am a supporter of Macintosh computers and Pro Tools in the professional environment. The realities of the professional world decree that this is how you must go if you wish to have a successful career. I do swing every which way: I have done high-profile professional projects on Microsoft computers, Nuendo, Logic, Cubase, and tape. By and large, however, contemporary creative demands as well as the desire for portability and universality demand a Macintosh and Pro Tools combination.

Mac or PC:
macpcForget the I/Os, forget the gear (for now). Heck, even forget about the talent. In today’s music production world, you cannot record anything of any kind without a good computer. For the audiophiles out there, I too am a tape guy when the opportunity presents itself. However, the availability of the medium coupled with budgets and real-world artist demands often preclude the use of our beloved reel-to-reels.

So before you choose between Pro Tools and Logic and Nuendo, you have to pick the optimum machine to support those programs. When the question is posed to me there are three main distinctions that I like to draw:

1)  This one is kind of arbitrary but is necessary exposition because, when talking about technology, you will often get the conscientious objector who takes issue with the nomenclature: a Macintosh computer is a PC.

PC stands for personal computer, so the question really comes down to Macintosh or Microsoft. That kind of has a nice ring to it, so I’m curious why the debate is framed in such a manner. Apologies to those Linux supporters out there, but Linux isn’t even a wildcard in this tournament.

2)  A much more substantive and important distinction to draw is that Apple produces an operating system (Macintosh) so that it can sell its computers. On the other hand, Microsoft produces computers so that it can sell its operating system.

This is a subtle difference, but very important. When your Macintosh computer crashes and you need to rebuild from scratch, you can use any OS installer on your computer. Mac doesn’t even ask for a serial number. That is because Apple is in the business of selling computers and the OS itself is simply a construction so that they can sell them machines themselves. That means that every component that is in the machine has an express purpose, specific to the operating system. Likewise, every line of code that exists in the operating system has an express purpose in the functioning of those components.

On the other hand, when your Microsoft (or rather Microsoft-based) computer crashes, you’ll need to have your officially sanctioned serial numbers and identifiers because Microsoft’s sole desire as a company (for our purposes) is to sell an operating system. Not the computer. If you actually go to the Microsoft store, you will not see a single computer “made” by Microsoft. The actual computers that run Microsoft Operating systems are produced by Dell, Asus, Lenovo, and *shriek* even Macintosh. Of course, the high competition for producers running a Microsoft-based platform means that the price can be significantly cheaper, but ultimately that means that the company creating your computer has little at stake in how the operating system functions with the computer itself.

3)  The third distinction deals more with what your computers are actually doing: The computer and the operating system itself has no idea what operations you are performing.

Whether it is a Mac or a Microsoft or Linux, no computer has any real idea whether you are watching a movie, editing a family video, touching up a photograph, or recording death metal. It is just doing calculations. The real question when dealing with music production is how quickly can VERY LARGE chunks of information accessed, transferred, and put to use.

Macintosh realizes this. For a very long time, the talking point about Macs was that they handled big calculations and files better than Microsoft. While this may be true from an OS standpoint, a processor or hard drive or stick of RAM doesn’t know whether it’s running on OSX or Vista. The real distinction is that with Macintosh, you can accept as a given the fact that the components within your machine are top of the line and designed to handle tasks that require large computations and throughput. Macintosh knows that their demographic has long been “creative” types rather than business professionals, so the OS and machines are all designed to handle labor intensive processes.

Microsoft on the other hand, after a certain baseline, frankly doesn’t give a damn about the components that are in the computer. There are Microsoft computers out there on the market that are designed only for web-browsing and word-processing. And rightly so, Microsoft has a huge and broad market that caters to businessmen and soccer moms and even creative types, so some machines handle large computations and have max throughput while others do not.

So from these three distinctions, it should be clear that you can buy a Microsoft, and with the right tweaks and customizations, it can perform equally to a Mac or better. There are plenty of options available due to the gaming community (which overwhelmingly uses Windows-based computers) and these add-ons will likely be cheaper due to vast competition in the Microsoft peripherals market. However, this will require more thoughtful consideration on the part of the consumer than buying a Mac with a very small set of top-of-the-line variables.

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12 Responses to “Mac or PC for Music Production?”

  1. Chris McNosky says:

    Right on.

  2. Carlos says:

    I do agree with most everything you say except for the fact that Linux is not even considerable. There are major players out there that state that the main DAW for linux (Ardour) is comparable in many ways to Pro Tool.
    Furthermore, EXT4 has proven much faster than the OSX file system and wine can provide near zero latency with products like Guitar Rig.
    All in all, the only thing preventing Linux from coming into play in the pro audio world is the will for professional producers to try it out like they do with OSX when they consider changing from microsoft to apple.
    That said, Linux still has the same issues as windows when it comes to choosing hardware but it usually makes better use of the hardware it is running on.

  3. Coke says:

    What you say is more or less completely inaccurate, especially at the end…If you buy a top of the line (and, oh no!, put some thought into it) PC (p.s. comparing macs and microsoft is just about as dumb as you can get) it will DESTROY a readymade macs performance. The internal components in macs are borderline garbage, even if you buy top of the line. Buying a PC with good components = way better than a readymade mac.

  4. Keith says:

    @Coke- This article is comparing readymade Macs to readymade Microsoft PCs. There IS a wide range of upgrade options with Windows-based PCs as I mention, and I’ve updated this post to add that these upgrades are much cheaper and greater in number than those for Macs. I should also note that since writing this post I’ve begun to see Apple offerings which are NOT suitable for audio production, namely their Macbook (non-pro) laptop which does not have a Firewire port.

  5. Robert GP says:

    To me Mac is like a Ferrari; ready to run fast, pretty and expensive, but “wouldn’t even be a wildcard” against any Fast and Furious Workstation PC. So at the end I think it gets more down to how much do you know about computers (or car mechanics). If you don’t know, or don’t want to mess with the system, buy Mac, but don’t get it to a race unless you are a tremendously skilled pilot.

  6. Sam says:

    Well, I think Macs look very nice. But I also believe that they’re a status symbol.

    But, for music production, I think I’d go mac, mainly because I believe they’re more secure and stable.

  7. Magris says:

    I don’t think you’ve characterized the PC vs Mac reality properly in your article. First of all, Microsoft is very vested is working well on all platforms. They don’t want an image of being unreliable. Quite frankly, the fact that they have achieved the level of hardware support that they have is quite an accomplishment – you don’t have to install drivers anymore. Just install windows on any system and connect to the internet, and it will set up all the hardware for you.

    Also, in the last part, Macs do not have top-of-the line components. At best, they are mid-grade components (processor, RAM, etc.), and to upgrade them the ‘Apple’ way is ridiculously expensive. I work on both mac and PCs. The Macs always underperform, especially for the price, regadless of the application (3d rendering, compiling, rendering music with ableton). It is fair to say that you use a Mac because you like OSX. However, if you think it’s better than any given PC for the price you’re completely delusional.

  8. David says:

    I used to be Mac fanboy. Windows 7 changed my mind. I bought Logic studio when Apple first released it but never had a mac powerful enough to run it. I cannot tell a difference in stability between Windows 7 and OSX(not talking about needing anti-virus software in Windows here, just having like 60 windows open with 20 programs running at once and the computer DOES NOT lock up). Personally I think Microsoft finally making a stable OS that runs that good on piles of different systems is one hell of an engineering feat compared to Apple making OSX to run specifically on systems they engineer it to run on. In Windows I now can leave programs open for a week at a time(just like I did on the macs that I owned) and they don’t crash! I still have trouble accepting that because of the difference between Windows XP and OSX. In fairness though, Windows XP is more comparable to OS9, but that is only because of hearsay because I never really used OS9. Something that almost NO ONE ever takes into consideration is that anymore, about the only software that determines whether you run one system or another is Logic, Fruity Loops, and Sonar. It seems that everything else is Hybrid software. So if you run Pro Tools, Cuebase, Reason, Native Instruments stuff, EastWest sounds stuff, Live, etc etc, then you could use EITHER system. So if Windows 7 runs just as stable(or at least it sure does seem to), why not build a PC with MORE power than the 12 core monster that Apple sells maxed out, for about 2000 dollars as opposed to 12-15,000 dollars? If security is a really big deal to you(or just install Norton or Mcafee), install Ubuntu on a separate partition and use it as a web browser, and only get on the net in Windows for updates to your software. As stable as Windows 7 has been for me, the more I use it I simply can’t rationalize spending the money on a Mac. Nothing against Apple, just pure economics. Actually my only 2 complaints are that they refuse to make either a touch screen iMac(which Sony beat them to that about 2 years ago), and not a mid priced tower. I had a mirrored doors G4 and that computer was built like a tank. I miss that old assed computer:(

  9. Benny says:

    I agree with the article solely based on the fact that it high-lights both the pros & cons of each OS.
    At the end of it all, one just has to assess what they want to use their computers for & make their
    purchase based on that conclusion.

  10. Jeremy says:

    I kinda can see some of these points. But the fact of the matter is Apples DO NOT comes with top of the line hardware. In fact, IF you want that kind of hardware Apple actually charges 50%+ whatever retail value on the product is. Also the fact that most people who know anything about PC will not simply buy a computer from a company. You make it, from scratch, far cheaper, better hardware, cheaper price. The overhead that Apple makes on all there products is sickening.

  11. Mike Taylor says:

    In another life, I made a living selling component parts to the subcontract manufacturer who built Apple computers. The components are not junk, but they aren’t particularly premier quality, like mil-spec or high-temp or failure-rated parts. However, Apple is very specific about their qualified vendor list and do not tolerate part substitutions at a manufacturing level. Surprise! Apple likes a lot of control over the manufacture of their hardware! On a different note, I do some part-time DJ work using a Sony Vaio straight out of the 1/8″ jack. The onboard converters are VERY good on the Sony and the sound quality is excellent. At a recent wedding gig, a customer brought her MacBook Pro for me to play her playlist for her. I was surprised to find that the Apple converters were very obviously inferior to the Sony in quality, noise floor and signal strength. I agree that, if you spend your money wisely on good hardware, you can get a better Windows-based computer for a lot less money than going with Apple. There’s a lot of hype and posturing that Apple sells in addition to their hardware and OS.

  12. djdoug0341 says:

    You people are crazy. In my business my shifts are 10 hours long. I mix music and music video on a virtual board plugged into A 8GB 17″ 2012 Mac book pro. I also own 5 windows lap tops. I have used both at an abuse level that only someone who has to change songs every 3 minutes. Here is a simple test why don’t you open identical programs on both a Mac and Pc of equal ram and possessors. Now open a cpu meter and you tell me what you see. I see the Mac’s cpu usage staying low and the computer stays cool. The Pc’s meter will ping at the red line and the computer gets hot as hell. This is when using Virtual Dj as the main program and several others such as web browsers and downloading from youtube at the same time. The Mac is more stable and faster hands down. Plus the Mac has thunderbolt. I have 3TB’s or 3,000 gigs of music and music video. Try and run that stability for 10 to 20 hours straight on a usb external hard drive. If you think Pc is equal to Mac for mixing music and video you probably don’t do it for a living. If you do your probably just can’t afford the Mac because your probably not that good!


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