Macbook Air for Audio/DAW

Discussion in 'MacBook Air' started by Ravenwolf40, Mar 27, 2011.

  1. Ravenwolf40 macrumors newbie

    Mar 23, 2011
    Originally I was torn between the MBP and MBA. But after many helpful posts on here I am 95% sure of getting the 13", 4GB ram, 128GB ssd model for $1399.

    However, I do have one last (hopefully last :p) concern before I pull the trigger and buy one. I went back to Best Buy (again... the guy there thinks I'm nutso I'm sure, and he's probably right). But I noticed that the wired ram (the ram being used by the Os) was 400MB on the 13" MBA, but 600MB or so on the 13"MBP. I rebooted both machines and still the same. I don't understand things like this too well. Is the MBA OS stripped down or something? Or is there really a 200+MB difference due to Optical drive, etc...?

    In seeing the difference, I'm wondering if the MBA has any latency issues that the MBP may not have? Am I missing something in the realm of audio recording that others out there may have insight into?

    I do not plan to record voice or guitar or bass onto the MBA (rather use my iMac for that), BUT I will be editing the audio files that I recorded on the MBA and I will be using ezdrummer, and other soft synths/effects (IK Multimedia, Celemony, Native Instruments plugins, etc...). So does anyone else out there that owns one have any experience in what I'm looking to do? Does the audio sync up nicely? Any noticeable lag, etc...? I know that the MBA can handle tons of stereo audio files that were already recorded. I guess my main concern is syncing up ok?

    I know this sounds ridiculous, but after recently doing a quick video using photobooth on my iMac and the audio and video were not in sync (like at all), I am wondering about the MBA's ability to function without noticeable lag as a DAW in garageband or logic express 9.

    Oh, and how is the battery life using it as a DAW as well, getting the 7 hours?

    Ok, LOL, obviously have more than "one concern", but wanted to get all of the remaining thoughts in my head out there for those in the know.

    Thank you for any guidance that you can provide.
  2. Ravenwolf40 thread starter macrumors newbie

    Mar 23, 2011

    Someone in here has to use a MBA 13 with Logic Studio or Garageband with AU/VST/Virtual Instruments/Plugins/etc...

    Anyone? I could really use the info on your experience with it.

    95% of the reviews in here are it's great for email, web, old games (COD4 is hardly what I'd consider a new game).

    I saw a youtube video on a HD video encoding for like 700+MB, it was really slow but it did it. But I am not seeing much in my realm (audio composition using soft synths, etc... not so much recording multiple tracks of audio).

    So does anyone have a MBA 13 with 4gb of ram, 1.86 processor ($1399 model) and use native instruments komplete, or ik multimedia sampletank, or fl studio poizone/biohazard/morphine/etc... any of those or any like it? If so, how many soft synths can this processor/ssd handle at once? I mean adding up the ram usage is easy, but I'm concerned about the processor. I would upgrade to the ultimate, but I read it's only a 10% increase or so and the 128gb is more than enough as this will be a "sketchbook for ideas musically" plus all the normal use stuff (email, web, writing, youtube, etc...) I don't plan to store pictures or movies on it or anything. I figured the last thing I want to do is to have 2 computers of stuff to keep synced, I just want to work on a file and move it to my desktop to save, repeat...

    Any help would be appreciated.
  3. deppisch macrumors member

    Mar 14, 2011
  4. Ravenwolf40 thread starter macrumors newbie

    Mar 23, 2011

    Thank you for responding to me, I appreciate it. That post made me feel better as he is praising the 11" macbook air with plugins that took his 2006 mac pro to 50% usage. So the 13" I ordered today (yep, I finally pulled the trigger :) ), should do the trick just fine.

    I will definitely be posting my experiences with my music stuff after some time to play with the new computer though to help others who may be where I am right now.

    In case anyone cares, I ended up ordering the 13"MBA, 4GB Ram, 128GBSSD, $1399, the $39 MBA incase slip cover (4 week backorder on the case, odd but ok whatever), a $100 HP wireless printer that the guy told me has a $100 rebate (heck free printer after filling out some rebate form so I figured why not?), and the $250 applecare of course so my worrying mind can not worry for 3 years, woohoo. I did get a discount with my company affiliation, so saved about $110 or so on all of that as well. $1785 all said and done with tax and everything, not too bad!

    I am stoked to try this thing out, and I will report back on this thread with my audio/daw experiences in time :). I don't have the thing yet, but I have a feeling getting the 4gb of ram was a good move. I'm curious to see how much ram the plugins use!

    Ok, like a big kid now I must post in other threads in here, well, cause I can! Happy day :p.
  5. Ravenwolf40 thread starter macrumors newbie

    Mar 23, 2011
    My initial thoughts

    Ok all of my DAW audio friends out there. I have received my 13" MacBook Air, a wireless printer, and surprisingly I received my slipcover as well (no 3 to 4 week wait). Apple impresses with delivery!

    So I spent some of today loading up my new Air. I still have a ways to go but I managed to get garageband, logic express 9, and 2 jam packs loaded into the machine regarding my audio software (these were the ssd hogs for sure, my other programs are plentiful, but do not take up a ton of space). Upon boot up and setup, I had about 106gb free in the new machine, the remainder was OsX and such I guess, but 106gb is still a LOT for my needs as a second machine. After loading in about 2/3 of my stuff I still have about 85gb left, so I am very happy with the 128gb, the 64gb would have been too little, but the 256gb would have been overkill i think considering I don't plan to keep my itunes, iphoto, or any videos stored in this thing, but rather plan to use it as a creative workspace for my hobbies on the go.

    I noticed my initial battery level was showing 2 hours or so, but then after a reboot and just sitting there for like 5 minutes it showed 8hrs and 8 minutes. So the thing recalculates based on what you are doing all the time which is cool. So while I was playing 81 tracks in logic express 9 it was showing 2 hours, then move to text edit and it shows 7hrs and 20mins or what have you. So the initial boot up and loading of dvds from my external drive was more "battery intensive" than regular use.

    But on to the initial music stuff! My garageband project opened very fast (faster than on my imac). And the Air had absolutely no problem playing my sorry little song, like seriously, NO problem. So I thought, what would tax this thing that I have installed. AHA, the 1.4 or so GB The Killers - Spaceman demo song! So I install it. Upon first opening it, it needed to load in the waveforms for all 81 tracks/instruments and all of the effects, this took about 5 minutes or so (in all honesty I remember it taking about the same amount of time on my 2010 iMac 3.06GHz, 4gb ram system as well).

    So here is this HUGE project in logic express 9. 81 tracks of stuff, the mixer has effects, ultrabeat, efx, a couple amp sims and pedal boards, I would guess at least 60+ effects?? (too lazy to count), PLUS a video of the Killers as well!

    I thought for sure I would hit play and it would crap out immediately. But no, 44%cpu usage, still a little over 2gb of ram left, spiked at like 60% or so cpu but only when I was messing with the reverb on the vocal as it played (I picked a really thick, long church verb), and then back down to like high 40% low 50%. I made the video full screen and it just kept chugging along.

    This little machine is a BEAST! seriously. Now maybe the demo is somehow light weight, maybe I am missing something, but I don't think so, it is a 1.4GB demo, with all effects loaded, not just wave files with effects already in the waves themselves.

    I will be back with more info for everyone as I get more time, but I wanted to maintain my promise to the forum to post my first experiences in the music/DAW land with this thing as I remember looking for this same type of info when I was looking to purchase.

    I have to say, I am feeling very good about my 4gb upgrade decision. Even though this demo just approached the 2gb mark I feel that the extra RAM is really helping and will help even more with non-logic instruments like native instruments new razor (not that I liked it that much, but it did require/or recommend 4gb when I was perusing new instruments/soft synths the other day.

    So, overall, my first impression of the 13" air, 1.86GHz, 4gb ram, 128 ssd for $1399 is very very good. This thing is exceeding my expectations of it. The screen is very clear. The speakers are definitely a little tinny sounding, but definitely not bad either. I should say, much better than you would expect from a machine this size (and I'm sure that the headphones will sound perfect but I will have to try and report back later on).

    Well, that's all for tonight, time for bed.

  6. TrollToddington macrumors 6502

    Feb 27, 2011
    Looking forward to your further entries in this thread. I also intend to use an air for a similar application. I'd appreciate it if you shared some comments about air's latency.


  7. Onimusha370 macrumors 6502a

    Aug 25, 2010
    It runs logic like a dream, I actually love taking it to recording sessions, so light and portable! But yeah, it'll easily handle your work in logic :D
  8. sunrisemusic macrumors member

    Dec 18, 2010
    Thanks for letting us know, that's great to hear. I have an 11" air with 4 gigs RAM, and I have no doubts it will totally cover my own music/audio needs, but I haven't actually had a chance to really play around with anything yet, so it's great to hear other Air stories, even with the 13". I just LOVE my 11" babeee for travelling!
  9. Ravenwolf40 thread starter macrumors newbie

    Mar 23, 2011
    I agree folks, so far, I am extremely happy with this computer purchase for my audio needs :).

    As far as latency, keep in mind that my needs may differ from others in here. Music is my hobby, not my profession. I never record more than myself and even then it is never guitar AND mic, it's guitar OR mic. So I'm always only recording 1 audio input at a time. And I will still be recording my audio on my iMac since my audio interface is a firewire solo from maudio (Air doesn't have firewire) so I have limited ways of testing audio latency currently on the Air.

    I personally was more concerned with soft synth performance, etc... for the Air in comparison to the MBP when I was making my purchasing decision. And I still need to install all of my plugins and such before I can really answer that question for myself (even though I'm now committed with the Air), but I'm thinking I'll be ok from what I've seen so far!

    But I did take a moment to load up The Killers - Spaceman demo again in Logic 9 in an attempt to answer trolls question. I simply plugged in my apple headset with mic, created a new audio track, and set the project to 24bit, 256ms latency (default for the song), and left the low latency mode unchecked (also default for the song). I then clapped my hands and sang with the singer (yes, an amusing site/sound to my girl and my dogs I'm sure :p). I then created another audio track and then set the latency to 64ms, and checked the low latency mode on (although I've always been confused if this is JUST for soft synth plugins or if it also affects audio as well in some manner, but regardless, it's turned on as well).

    I then sang and clapped another track. Both recorded just fine, no errors or noticeable cpu spike beyond the 40% to 50% range it had been in all along. I played it all back, the entire demo and my 2 vocal tracks, then I solo'd just the singers audio and my 2 tracks. I could hear the delay between my two takes (obviously as they were recorded with different latency settings), so I know that my changes did do something regardless of my understanding of low latency mode and the true audible difference between 256ms and 64ms, but there was a difference between my two takes (as I intended to hear) to assure I was changing the settings properly.

    Bottom line, this simple test showed me that the Air can indeed record audio in a low latency mode no differently than my iMac would. And without error or stuttering or anything. But again, this is just for 1 audio track at a time. I will not be able to answer for those out there with multiple audio input boards/interfaces who are looking to plug in 2 mics, 2 guitars, and a bass. I would assume that the Air would reach it's limit quickly for that type of setup (but I could be wrong, this thing has exceeded what I thought it could do thus far). But I don't want to speculate and lead anyone wrong with that type of setup. But I can say, from what I'm seeing, that for a "one man band" type of home recording hobby studio it is looking very promising thus far.

    Now I just need to load in my soft synths, open garageband (my platform of choice), and load it up to the hilt to see what this thing can take. Hope to be back with that later on.

  10. DeepIn2U macrumors 601


    May 30, 2002
    Toronto, Ontario, Canada

    Any updates lately? Is the MBA 13" you've purchased still being used for its initial purpose?

  11. nebulos macrumors 6502a


    Aug 27, 2010
    just saw this for the first time after the last bump. i tried asking about audio performance here myself once with ZERO responses.

    thanks for sharing your experiences! ... except, you're making MR seem almost like a useful forum, which is very confusing.

    i had looked around a bunch a while ago for threads on this stuff, found the few pro tools posts, and a pointless argument thread or two on the ableton forums. i was surprised to see so little written in this direction; i found essentially nothing on MR.

    anyways, at this point, i'm waiting for the Sandy Bridge Airs. however, the upcoming 11" may well be comparable (if a bit faster) to the current 13", so, this may still help when considering that model for music work.

    thanks again!
  12. Q2Air2Pro Guest

    Yes indeed, awesome review and very helpful!

    Does anyone else have experience with a MBA and Ableton (Live), using a MIDI keyboard connected to the USB port (I have a Roland Edirol PCR)?

    I guess the MBA should handle this fine. My 10-year old ever overheating VAIO (Pentium M 1.73GHz, 1.5GB RAM) can keep up with most of stuff I do. Although loading Cubase with a couple of plugins would cause regular crashes though...
  13. Ravenwolf40 thread starter macrumors newbie

    Mar 23, 2011
    Sorry everyone

    I totally forgot about my postings on here after my shopping experience was finished. I was going through my bookmarks while my girlfriend is watching Nancy Grace and this mess of a trial with Casey Anthony, ie I'm bored :p.

    And yes, I'm on my 13" air!! And yes, I still LOVE this thing. This is hands down the best computer I've ever owned (and I've owned a LOT of computers over the years). The 13" has the workspace of a much larger computer, the 4gb of ram has been more than enough for my needs.

    Normally I'd be upset and wanting the new stuff, but honestly, this thing does everything that I would need for quite some time. I don't need anymore speed, but with that being said, if I didn't have one, I'd wait for the new one too at this point in time, I mean why not they have to be close to another upgrade here soon I would think.

    Forgive my post, the tv is interfering with my thought processes :p. I am unsure how else I can help others except to say that more than likely this computer is going to be tons more powerful and useful than you are thinking it will be. Is it a desktop replacement? In my opinion I'm still not sure. I mean I guess it depends on what you'll use it for. But EVERYTHING I've wanted to do on my computer this thing has handled with ease. Music apps, web design apps, book writing, emails, web browsing, photo editing, movie watching, graphic design, a few games from the app store.

    Again, not sure what else to say. Buy one, you won't be sorry. It is just sooo portable, no moving parts except for a fan that I never really notice unless the room is dead silent and even then it's quiet. The battery life is amazing and will re-calculate based on what you are doing. For example right now it is showing 7 hours, 40 minutes and I've been using it for about an hour today. But if I'd switch to logic and play a video and many many tracks it may show 3 hours and 40 minutes as an example. It will adjust based on how much battery you should have if you continue whatever it is that you are doing, really cool in my opinion.

    I've found that I sit it directly on my knees while sitting on the couch and it is a comfortable temperature, barely warm. I've also found myself holding it with my left hand up in the air closer to my face for 20 minutes sometimes without realizing that I'm doing it it is so light.

    A midi keyboard would be absolutely fine in the usb port. Sent Midi commands are really no different than commands sent from a regular keyboard, it's not like streaming audio or video, it's a relatively small amount of data being sent.

    LOL, now my battery is at 8hours and 2min. Typing on Macrumors must not be very taxing :).

    Ok, I'm out, peace all...
  14. josh2007 macrumors member

    Dec 22, 2008
    Have you a separate drive for audio? That would be the only deal killer for me. I like FW on my MBP.
  15. Ravenwolf40, Jul 4, 2011
    Last edited: Jul 4, 2011

    Ravenwolf40 thread starter macrumors newbie

    Mar 23, 2011
    Josh2007, I use my macbook air as a secondary computer. When I bought the air I saw it as something to carry around with me to capture ideas and to work on things as I can until I got back to my iMac. Before I purchased, my concerns were that I wouldn't be able to run programs like Logic at all. This obviously turned out false, this machine can easily handle it.

    But keep in mind that I do not plug in guitars or mics into my Air as i don't travel with my mics and guitars, for me personally that would be silly of me to do so when my iMac is right next to my guitars and mics. I am a home studio musician and I do it solo. I have no need for portability in this hobby. But my writing, photography, and web design hobbies do need portability and the Air more than shines for these needs for me.

    I was going to try to test plugging the guitars and mics into the air for everyone until I realized that my M-Audio firewire solo is just that, firewire. I don't currently own a USB interface to even plug in my mics and guitars. I did a latency test above by simply plugging a mic into the air, but that was about as far as I could go.

    What I do use the air for is running softsynths and plugins in garageband and logic. And I have run into absolutely zero limitations for what I use in my song writing. Again, keep in mind I am a solo hobbyist musician. I do not plug in 3 guitars and 2 mics at the same time and I am not running hundreds of tracks. But some of my songs have 30 tracks or so I'd guess and that logic demo had a TON more than that.

    I run Melodyne, Native Instruments and IK multimedia (many plugins from both of them, amplitube2 and guitar rig 4 for effects and such even without plugging in a guitar), EZDrummer, Peak, and of course Apple Jam packs and such as well. And the air handles them with ease. There is no thinking "hmmm, I wonder if this will crush the processor/ram" I just add what I want and play/work with my hobby.

    But again, I have no experience recording on the air. I record on my iMac and then transfer the files over wi-fi to my air to work on other aspects of the file then send them back over wi-fi to the iMac.

    I do not want to mislead you, but I would think it would work just fine for a mic or a guitar recording one thing at a time. I mean this drive is SOOO fast, it would probably work better than on my iMac. Now I know I've heard talk of these drives not lasting if you use them like that or something. But honestly I don't know if that is true or not. My 128gb or whatever it was has 40gb or so left which is more than enough space for my "workspace" for writing, web design, working on one or two songs at any moment. I do have a 1 terabyte WD usb harddrive that I use for timemachine for the air. At $89.99 or so at best buy I have one for the iMac and one for the air side by side on my desk. But I only backup before or after major changes to the Air. I do not leave the hard drive plugged in all the time.

    If you plan to hook up a hard drive to an Air and use it as a main machine I think it would probably work just fine. But if you haven't purchased an Air yet and you plan to use it in that manner, if it were me, I'd wait until thunderbolt shows up on the Air and then you are more than golden. I didn't have to wait because that wasn't my intended use of the machine. I don't know why, but I just prefer to work on a desktop for my recording of real instruments, call me old fashioned, but it just feels better to me. I can't imagine why I'd want to drag my guitars down to the family room with the Air and tons of USB crap hanging off the thing to record when I could sit in the comfort of my office and simply plug right into my M-Audio record the takes that I need and move on with other things. Once I have the takes I can then edit them on either machine at that point (add effects, use melodyne to correct that string bend that didn't quite reach the note that I was trying to bend to in my solo, etc...). I guess what I'm saying is that "portability" for me isn't limited by my Air computer, it's limited by my guitars and my condensor mic attached to a big mic stand with a big honking set of earphones hanging on the stand LOL ;P.

    Because again, I do not store photos, videos, my music archive, etc.. on this thing. I personally use this thing as my lightning fast work horse and it is perfect as a second computer for this task. For me, this is computing Nirvana, seriously. I thought I reached a high when I left PCs and bought my iMac, but the Air just took things to a new level for me.

    Sorry for the long posts, I write as a hobby and I type very fast, I get carried away sometimes. Hope this mess of text helped you in some way.
  16. deadwalrus macrumors regular

    Feb 16, 2011
    Any updates on this? Has anyone tried using a Macbook Air connected to a Cinema Display over thunderbolt, connected to things like (1) an Audio Interface via Firewire and (2) an external harddrive via USB? Would be awesome to know that sort of setup will chug along running DAW software and recording multiple inputs at 24 bit 192 etc.
  17. sammtri macrumors newbie

    Oct 15, 2011
    I'm waiting for this thunderbolt hub.

    I'm working with MBP for quite sometimes on music and really happy to use MBA 13" with music also...just get started with Logic9.1.5 and it's great. My interfaces are Presonus Firestudio (firewire) and RME Babyface (USB2)

    I'm waiting for this hub to released and I hope it would come out as firewire hub and also others people could dream about, and it's fast.

    also this too about able to use PCI slots with thunderbolt

    This port will make my life happier.

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