Is the MBA ideal for music editing and production?

Discussion in 'MacBook Air' started by Ryuukumori, Mar 23, 2008.

  1. Ryuukumori macrumors 6502

    Jan 18, 2008
    Hello, and warm welcomes to all MBA users.

    I do not own any Mac at home, but looking into one for college. I have read up on all the pros/ cons of the MBA (non-removable battery and RAM, lack of ports and optical drive, etc). I am not a computer gamer, so I stick to the consoles.

    I was wondering if a MBA is ideal for any kind of music production. Can it handle heavy music editing with GB or Logic Pro? Is it ideal with the somewhat "lack" of external ports?

    Please share your opinions and/ or experiences with music production for fun or work on a MBA.

    (By the way, I am asking this to decide whether I should be looking into a MBA or MBP for college September of 2009, so I have LOTS of time to wait for newer models).

    Thanks for any help.
  2. QuarterSwede macrumors G3


    Oct 1, 2005
    Colorado Springs, CO
    I've used a 15" PB to do some Cubase (ugh) editing and I found even a 15" screen somewhat restricting. I wouldn't go with an MBA as I doubt it's got enough power to do what you want without lagging at times and the 13" screen really isn't that much when you need to do some fader work. A 15" MBP is at least what you want if you want a notebook. Could you get by with a MBA? ... sure. Trust me, spend the cash on the 15" MBP instead, you'll be glad you did.
  3. iToaster macrumors 68000


    May 3, 2007
    In front of my MacBook Pro
    It can be done, but due to the lack of disk space and small hard drive, as well the slower processor, it will not be ideal. I'd say you'd be well off with a MBP or even a MB hooked up to an external display. You'll definitely need the extra space offered by the MB/P's hard drive. Simply, no, the MBA is not ideal for music editing and production.
  4. Ryuukumori thread starter macrumors 6502

    Jan 18, 2008
    Thank you all for your opinions so far.

    But I am wondering why music production needs that much power, such as in a MBP. Is it really needed?
  5. hotdamn macrumors 6502

    Jan 24, 2007
    Ottawa, ON, Canada
    you do not want a macbook air for that kind of stuff, trust me.
  6. sanford macrumors 65816

    Jan 5, 2003
    Dallas, USA
    I'm a professional writer and the Air is the finest Mac I've ever owned. Were I a professional audio producer, it would be the worst. It's not so much the power -- although faster is faster, and when you're working, you know, time is money -- it's the abbreviated internal storage and lack of multiple interface ports, and any FireWire port at all, which keeps you from using numerous FireWire audio interface, such as the Duet and others. And from friends I know who do professionally produce music and cinema audio, USB audio interfaces just don't cut it, perhaps not merely because they're USB not FireWire, but because they are consumer or hobbyist devices rather than professional tools, they are USB-only.

    But for fun, say GarageBand, as an amateur hobbyist, no problem. Bear in mind the Air doesn't even come with all the Apple Loops and whatnot installed -- they're on the install DVD, just not installed to space -- so you'll have to allocate your internal storage accordingly.

    Frankly, after 22 years of using only Macs, the Air is the first Mac most targeted toward academics, students and writers, over those in the visual arts, like graphics and film, or the audio field, music and sound effects for example. Small and light is great for constant travelers, but constant travelers in these other fields who must work while on the go can deal with MacBook Pro or MacBook. So can writers, scholars, researchers, etc., but the feel of snagging a thing thin and light as paper notebook out of your bag, instantly opening it to where you left off, rather grabbing for your laptop computer, is something people in these latter fields find more accessible, in fact is one of the reasons many writers carry paper notebooks in their pockets or bags, but have a laptop they leave at home on their desks.

    But for the hobbyist in audio and music, the Air is plenty. Get the external SuperDrive drive if you want to burn CDs of your work, eliminate the sneaker-net-esque hassle of copying file to another Mac to burn a disc, and I think an external USB2 hard drive is a must for back-ups and archiving projects.

    p.s. Pardon typos. It's Easter. I'm celebrating by not nitpicking every trivial thing I write.
  7. John.B macrumors 601


    Jan 15, 2008
    Holocene Epoch
    The biggest problem for me would be the MBAs lack of a FireWire port, since that's how I tend to get tracks into Logic in the first place.
  8. sanford macrumors 65816

    Jan 5, 2003
    Dallas, USA
    Yeah, if you're *replacing* a system and you're an audio enthusiast, even strictly hobbyist and/or amateur, I'd still forget it. But if you're *building* a non-pro amateur system, I don't see a real problem.

    The main thing is not to buy an Air that won't serve your needs just because it's sleek as all hell. As for the Air, being a writer, I'm lucky and it perfectly suits me, sleek or no. And it serves as well as a main computer, and does not have to be a second computer as so many industry critics contend. But they're been plenty of times, almost every time, the coolest new Mac doesn't best suit me because I don't need that kind of power, or the larger size gets in my way, etc. Indeed for years I've been buying far more computer than I need to get a Mac, so I wouldn't buy less just to get a Air. The Air is the cat's peejays but if you can't do your music or audio work on it like you want, you'll hate it ten days after you've gee-whizzed over it taking out of the tiny box.
  9. PkennethV macrumors 6502a

    Aug 16, 2006
    and without a FireWire port, you're stuck with USB external drives which are SLOW compared to firewire. Plus they slow down your entire system when making large transfers.
  10. sanford macrumors 65816

    Jan 5, 2003
    Dallas, USA
    Ryuu, I hope this kind of gives you a picture of which way to go. If you're serious about audio work, economize with a MacBook or splurge with a MacBook Pro. If you're just fooling around, and don't already have a comfortable Mac audio environment for fooling around which you are intending to replace, the Air is fine. But give it a good thinking through, as $1,800 is a lot to spend to feel hobbled by your chosen tool. For example, Pken's comment about USB drives, they're fine for incremental Time Machine back-ups, every couple days or even every hour -- although you're unlikely to keep your eyed plugged up to an external drive like you might a MB or MB Pro. But transferring large CD-quality audio files back and forth all day long, you'll likely feel the difference over FireWire's slower burst but far better sustained data transfer rates.

    My Air has worked out great for me, specifically for my needs and my profession. But until I spent a couple days using it, I was quite a bit worried I'd bitten into trendy Apple and bought the thing on fashion sense. (My wife would collapse and suffocate on her own laughter if she heard me say I ever chose anything on fashion sense. I have sandal black Crocs for around the house and brief outings, closed-toe black Crocs for lengthier excursions, plus some GORE-TEX boots for the really snowy/icy/mucky days. One all-season blazer, one winter blazer. A very simple, collared leather jacket, and a Maine country-house sort of lined water-resistant coat with a hood and many pockets. An ancient Brooks heavy wool full-length overcoat. A few pairs of jeans and a few very simple cotton dress shirts, all of indeterminate age. White athletic socks. Plain T-shirts. Two Spartan belts. That's the wardrobe, counting out sleep pants/peejay bottoms, and a cozy, well-worn, full-length robe, all of which see a lot of wear, too -- even at the local Starbucks in the early mornings. So I wouldn't be easily swayed by Apple glam, right? Wrong. I like the things *around me* to fit my sense of design and fashion, so I warn you it's very easy to know what you need, know the Air doesn't suit you, but you go to an Apple Store, touch an Air for two minutes, you leave with one. Be advised.)
  11. NC MacGuy macrumors 603

    NC MacGuy

    Feb 9, 2005
    The good side of the grass.
    I have an Air and love it. But that said, it's used primarily for my lackluster office apps, email, browser type stuff. I also have a MB & MBP.

    As much as I would like to say the Air's for you, I think a nicely loaded MB may be the ticket.
  12. masterpace macrumors regular

    Mar 24, 2008
    MBA can be a potent music production system

    Hi there! Lately, I faced the same dilemna as yours. I already got a studio, doing "part time" dance music production. In my current setup, a 17 inches MBP is my main computer. I'm running Cubase Studio on it, along with a few MIDI interfaces and external sound card (Firewire). Lately, I fell in love with the MBA and was wondering how could I "migrate" my current setup from MBP to MBA. Right now, I still have to decide whether I keep the MBA and sell the MBP or just return it for a refund.

    Let's note that if you're building a new studio and depending of your requirements, I find that the MBA can be a fully functional system. Sure, you have to make it for the lack of ports and the tiny screen. Here's a summary of my personal experience.

    In my setup, I'm relying a lot of external gear (synthesizers, modules, digital console, compressor). I'm mainly using Cubase for MIDI capabilities and to digitally record my mixdown (final mix). I don't use any soft synths, VST plugins (effects) or record more than 2 tracks simultaneously. I'm pre-mixing everything through a Yamaha digital console and I just record the output of it as a stereo mix. It works fine for me.

    I previously used a MOTU MIDI interface (USB 1 compatible). I had to replace it with a USB 2 compliant interface (Edirol UM-3EX). On the back of the UM-3EX, there are 2 additional USB 2 ports. I plug my Cubase dongle and my Virus TI audio interface in it. It seems to work fine. After doing some tests, I realized that USB hubs are not too reliable (dropouts, timing problems, stuck notes...) and also, the following golden rule: DO NOT MIX USB 1 AND USB 2 INTERFACES TOGETHER. It simply doesn't work. Also, plugging more than 2 interfaces (MIDI/audio) through the same USB doesn't work: there's not enough bandwidth, even if the power can be sufficient.

    So, to make a long story short, it works for me. Now, I might need an external LCD. Editing multiple scores in Cubase is not that great with a tiny screen. In your case, if you plan to rely a lot on software synths/plugins and/or do some multitrack recording (more than 2 or 4 tracks simultaneously), it will most likely not be a reliable setup. Anyhow, most of multitrack audio interfaces (more than 2 simultaneous inputs) are Firewire only. In that case, the MBA will never meet the Firewire port requirement.

    If you have further question, please let me know!

    Good luck!
  13. Ryuukumori thread starter macrumors 6502

    Jan 18, 2008
    Ah, good to be a writer. I write here and there, creative writing. I have also bonded with music all my life too (a musician of piano, alto sax, drums, and guitar). Any other insights on this topic?

    Anyone actually try it?

    BTW- I am probably going with a MBP, but I'm just curious with all you MBA users.
  14. Killyp macrumors 68040


    Jun 14, 2006
    I don't own a MacBook Air, but I know I couldn't use one for music production. The lack of Firewire and slower hard drive would make it a pain...
  15. mashinhead macrumors 68030

    Oct 7, 2003
    I use logic on a mbp. the software alone couldn't fit on a mba hard drive. Not to mention it would be so slow. I love the mba as much as the next but i don't think you should decieve yourself as to its capabilites just cause you really really want one. its like a woman buying the wrong size shoe and pretending it fits just cos she likes them. As much as i want an air i funnily haven't brought myself to get one, probably cos deep down i know there isn't anything i can really do with it. I would use it like an iphone. and i have a iphone for that. I think if you want the best balance for money get a macbook either of 2.4. (i say white to save the cash) and then get a massive hd and 4gb of ram from newegg. 320 is the max now, the 500gb ar supposed to be out soon, but even i gave up on waiting for that. And that should do you fine. and maybe get an external for backup. and if you still want an air after that. do like i'm doing and wait for refurbs or the second hand ones after the next update.
  16. masterpace macrumors regular

    Mar 24, 2008
    For sure, you can get better bang for the bucks with a Macbook. Drive will be faster too, enough for multitrack audio recording and has a Firewire port too, which might be critical in some setups. But, it seems like the original poster might want to record solo acoustic instruments, like piano, sax. In that case, multitrack and soft synths are probably not the foremost requirement. And, a system has to be fun too. If you have to travel a lot, or have to carry the laptop to school back and forth, then the MBA is certainly the best candidate out there. Paired with a cheap external LCD, a wireless keyboard/mighty mouse, it can make a cool, functional and very portable setup. However, if you don't mind the few extra pounds of the Macbook, inferior screen... then that can be an option as well.

    Just my two cents...
  17. CanadaRAM macrumors G5


    Oct 11, 2004
    On the Left Coast - Victoria BC Canada
    The key words are "heavy music editing"

    Until you quantify heavy, you can't expect a clear answer.

    Heavy use of a multitrack audio program is very hard disk intensive. The MBA's small, slow 1.8" drive is going to hit the wall way before a 2.5" drive.

    Heavy use of VST and AU plugins taxes the processor.
  18. beatzfreak macrumors 6502

    Jan 11, 2006
    I have to agree with this.

    I used my Air for recording in Garageband and Logic Express temporarily last week and it didn't miss a beat, but the small hard drive is certainly not idea for any long term or heavy music production.
  19. spacecadet610 macrumors 6502

    Mar 11, 2006
    IMO not ideal for heavy music editing. FOr your purposes, you need CPU power and storage space which are exactly the limitations of the MBA
  20. darwiniandude macrumors member

    Mar 20, 2008
    I"m just about to install Logic Studio on my MBA.... i'm adding my experiences to the 'Perfect Air?' thread.

    I did have a 2.4 MBP but have sold it, wanted the extreme portability of the air. I'll see how well (or not) it handles Logic.
  21. bassism macrumors member

    Dec 22, 2004
    In my opinion, the lack of firewire is pretty much a deal killer when it comes to audio applications. While a USB hd could do in a pinch, Firewire drives perform much better when you're doing a lot of constant read/write like in audio. On top of that, I've never used a USB interface that I liked, and I don't think they even exist beyond two channels.

    That said, with the addition of a firewire port (or if you do some research and find a USB interface that will meet your needs), I think the machine would make a great audio machine. Contrary to what many people in the world seem to think, it doesn't take a huge amount of power to run most studio projects. Just the other week I was recording at one of the top studios in Montreal. Their ultra powerful computer? A G4.
  22. Cloudsurfer macrumors 65816


    Apr 12, 2007
    Why is everyone complaining about power? Three years ago, PowerBooks barely reached over 1,6 GHz and they were fast enough for music editing.

    Yes, I think that if you hook the MBP up to a larger drive, it's quite capable of music and video editing.
  23. Ryuukumori thread starter macrumors 6502

    Jan 18, 2008
    How could people on earlier PowerBooks do music editing? It doesn't seem logical if the MBA can't do it. You're right.

    Has anyone tried Logic Pro on the MBA?

    Also, does it seem worth keeping a larger portable HD with the MBA and music editing?
  24. Music_Producer macrumors 68000

    Sep 25, 2004
    The answer is, it depends..

    I had a powerbook 1ghz and carried out some severe music production stuff.. 64 tracks with plug-ins, etc (on digital performer 3 on os 9 lol) *But* the key factor was that I used a magma expansion chassis to hook the pb up to a 10,000 rpm SCSI drive.

    So I don't know if you are doing intensive music editing or production. They are two different things. Editing is easier on the computer than production is.. for production I assume you are going to use virtual instruments, etc.. then you need a lot of RAM and a fast processor.

    I think the MBA is powerful enough but it's hard drive would be the limiting factor. Also, obviously lack of a FW port to hook up to a 7200 rpm external drive. It would be good enough if you are doing some basic music editing (maybe 10-12 tracks in pro tools) but not with a lot of plug-ins, etc.

    I have a MBP and at any given time I will be using Reason, Logic Pro, Atmosphere and Stylus RMX.. at the same time. I record to an external FW drive and performance is solid .. but I do experience some hiccups especially when a lot of things are going on. Remember, that with audio production you are basically running massive .wav/aiff files - so that's a huge hit on the hard drive, and then all the plug-ins are a massive hit on the processor and RAM. So a combination of both can bring a decent system down.

    I would stick with a MBP for music editing/production, if it's very basic stuff then you can do it on an mba. I assume in the future you will want to do some intensive stuff.. so buy a MBP. Lastly, screen size does matter.. even 15" is not enough for me! 13.3 would drive me nuts.
  25. Ryuukumori thread starter macrumors 6502

    Jan 18, 2008
    Ah, I see. But that's the weird thing- I have a 7200 RPM 320 GB external hard drive, but I use USB connectivity. I know it has firewire too, but I don't think it came with a cord.

    Other than that, thanks for the heads up on the MBA vs MBP with music production. I would be using REAL instruments, so it would make a hell of a difference to go for power rather than style while doing my work.

    On a final note, has anyone had success with the limiting factors of the Air and music production? Thanks.

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