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D*I*S_Frontman

macrumors 6502
Original poster
May 20, 2002
461
28
Appleton,WI
Hey MR Crew,

I am eligible for an interest-free computer loan via my employer, and I want the system to pull double-duty: to assist me with work-related tasks from home (which are relatively rare and could be done on a Chromebook), and for the new system to become the centerpiece of my new project recording studio. My budget could allow for an entry-level Mac Studio, a near-entry level 14" MBP, or a nicely-spec'd Macbook Air M2.

Since I want to have the ability to do remote recording, the Mac Studio isn't at the top of my list (although with a portable monitor, keyboard, and hard shell case, I COULD actually do remote recordings with one--it just wouldn't be all that convenient). That leaves the other two options.

Another criterion that matters to me is 100% silent operation, and the MBA delivers on that. Yes, I know one has to really bog an MBP down with CPU and/or GPU tasks in order to get the fans to even spin up at all, let alone to audible levels, but it would be something I would prefer to avoid.

So I am leaning heavily toward an MBA M2 with 8-core CPU/8-core GPU (which is touted to run cooler than the 10-GPU version), 24 GB RAM and 2 TB storage. With an education discount, that'll come in at $2,219. Since MBA's cannot be upgraded later, going with the biggest RAM and storage options makes sense to me. I plan on using big Superior Drummer libraries for drum sounds, and even some orchestral libraries on rare occasions, and I'm hoping 24 GB (the max I can order) will facilitate my future needs in this regard. 2 TB of storage is really just another bit of future-proofing, in that, generally speaking, the bigger SSDs are the faster they are, and the longer they last (at least that's my current understanding).

The one Achilles's Heel of the MBA M2 is, of course heat dissipation under load. Since I value fanless silence, I am wondering if anyone here at MR has suggestions for ways to wick heat away from the bottom of an MBA M2 that are 100% passive and silent. I already have an aluminum stand to elevate it off the desktop, allow room air to circulate better, and possibly serve as a heat sink itself. Are there any other ways I could pull heat from the chip? FWIW, I DON'T want to do the MaxTech thermal pad mod, as it has the potential to shorten battery life over time.

Would it make sense to apply a small square of thermal pad to my aluminum stand, precisely under where the processor sits, that could draw heat from the MBA chassis over to my aluminum stand? I would have to leave the backing plastic on the top side of the pad so that I can move the MBA on and off the stand at will. Do thermal pads still work when that backing is left on one side?

I suppose, when mixing down a huge project, I could go old-school and toss an ice-pack under the stand to keep it frigid cold. I mean, 90% of the time Logic running alone isn't going to push the MBA M2 anywhere near its thermal limits, so I'm only contemplating heat mitigation under extreme circumstances.

I would welcome any reflections you might have on ANY of this. I appreciate the real-world wisdom and insights here @ MR.

Thanks, Bart
 

MajorFubar

macrumors 68020
Oct 27, 2021
2,127
3,748
Lancashire UK
I think unless you're doing a LOT of real-time processing with dozens of plugins you're extremely unlikely to find an M2 MBA throttles under load.

I don't know what your current computer is but the jump the M series made was so stratospheric, compared to the previous Intel, it's almost hard to explain because the Geekbench numbers don't convey the real-life experience of using one.

What you've read online, and what you are being unconsciously worried by, are way too many stories from YouTube influencers who've gone out of their way to make the MBA overheat and throttle for the sake of getting channel-hits. In reality it burns the tarmac in front of every Macbook with an Intel chip without even breaking into a sweat.
 
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D*I*S_Frontman

macrumors 6502
Original poster
May 20, 2002
461
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Appleton,WI
I think unless you're doing a LOT of real-time processing with dozens of plugins you're extremely unlikely to find an M2 MBA throttles under load.
For my recording band's next album project, I could easily see our track count coming in at around 48-64 tracks, with a total of twice that many plug-ins. Most channel strip plug-ins are pretty CPU light, though, and I try to only use the big CPU pigs on a handful of subgroups or the final two-track master bus. I plan on recording in 96k/24 bit to keep latency down and to make it easier to push any aliasing from non-oversampled plug-ins out of the range of human hearing. If all of my plug-ins featured oversampling under the hood, however, I'd probably go back to 48k/24 bit to save on file size, but we're not quite there yet.

Of course, one can always track using minimal plug-ins, and simply increase the buffer to 1024 samples or more when mixing down, which gives the CPU a lot more breathing room. I've seen the lowest spec Mac Mini M1 chew through over a thousand tracks at once with an ample enough buffer:

I don't know what your current computer is but the jump the M series made was so stratospheric, compared to the previous Intel, it's almost hard to explain because the Geekbench numbers don't convey the real-life experience of using one.
I have a 2008 2.8 ghz 8-core Mac Pro Tower, featuring the DosDude1 hack to allow it to run MacOS 10.15 Catalina, w/48 GB RAM installed. The tower has issues, however, and randomly dies on me. I could probably fix it, but troubleshooting an old beast like this one isn't really worth it. I'll keep it around to run my archival stuff that still required the OG Rosetta to run (One of my HDDs can still boot the system in 10.6 Mountain Lion).

You are absolutely right about the power of the M-series of CPUs, especially in my case, even by Geek Bench's standards:

Mac Pro 8-Core 2.8 (2008):
Single core = 407 Multi-core = 2,343
Max power draw under load = 318 watts
Weight = 42.4 lbs.
Memory bandwidth = approx. 5 GB/s (800mhz speed)

Macbook Air M2 (8 CPU cores, 8 GPU cores):
Single core = 1,887 Multi-core = 8,725
Max power draw under load = 24 watts
Weight = 2.7 lbs.
Memory bandwidth = 100 GB/s

So that's means the MBA M2 will have over four and a half times faster single core processing, three and a half times faster multi-core processing, with 20x faster RAM, while using over thirteen times less power than my old tower ... and weighing only 2.7 lbs., featuring all-day battery life.

Yeah, that'll be a decent upgrade.
What you've read online, and what you are being unconsciously worried by, are way too many stories from YouTube influencers who've gone out of their way to make the MBA overheat and throttle for the sake of getting channel-hits. In reality it burns the tarmac in front of every Macbook with an Intel chip without even breaking into a sweat.
While I hope you're right, I might succumb to the temptation to use up all that performance with more elaborate tracking and plug-in indulgences, which is why I've been overthinking all this. I want to be sure this machine will handle everything I can throw at it for at least the next five years.
 
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MajorFubar

macrumors 68020
Oct 27, 2021
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You're in for an eye-opener.
I'm not saying though that if you 'go silly' with the plugins you won't ever need to freeze some tracks. There are limits. At the end of the day the MBA line is still their least-powerful line of Macbooks, and we quickly forget how not too long ago we would have laughed at anyone wanting to use one for serious productivity. But compared to a 14 year old Mac Pro it's going to feel like someone shot your computer with nitrous.
 

D*I*S_Frontman

macrumors 6502
Original poster
May 20, 2002
461
28
Appleton,WI
Behold my new uber-portable recording rig:
IMG_0141.jpeg


M2 chip, 24GB unified memory, 2 TB SSD storage, just as I mentioned in my OP. Also bought an XSKN silicone keyboard cover with all the Logic shortcut keys on it. This unit should work as the centerpiece of my project studio for the next five years.
 

jdb8167

macrumors 601
Nov 17, 2008
4,788
4,517
It doesn’t meet your requirements of silent, no fan operation but I bought a $20 laptop cooler from Amazon that does a very good job of preventing the M2 Air from throttling. It isn’t particularly noisy but definitely is not silent. I bought it just as a test and I haven’t used it since I finished testing since, in general, I don’t do anything on the MBA that causes throttling anyway.

I only mention this “solution” because if you are willing to compromise a bit it would definitely solve any throttling issues. And the cooler has an off switch for the majority of times when no additional cooling is required.
 
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D*I*S_Frontman

macrumors 6502
Original poster
May 20, 2002
461
28
Appleton,WI
UPDATE:

Given my initial concerns about throttling/overheating/stability, I decided to do a "stress test" of my M2 MBA in Logic. Here were the parameters:

Mix Down Settings (i.e., no latency concerns):

Sample Rate: 96k​
I/O Buffer: 1024 samples​
Processing Threads: Automatic​
Processor Buffer Size: Large​
Multithreading: Playback Tracks​
I was able to run six (6) stereo audio tracks, each running the following plug-ins in stereo:
Channel Strip EQ (stock)​
Gain (stock)​
PSP E27 EQ​
Waves PuigTech EQP1A
Waves PuigTech MEQ5
PSP Xenon Limiter​
Apple Sound Designer​
Gain (stock)​

I picked some of the biggest CPU-hogs that I regularly or at least occasionally use. Not including the stock Channel Strip and Gain plug-ins, this experiment shows 54 stereo plug-ins running @ 96k. That should be a decent basis of comparison, I think, as mono versions will have been much less taxing, and one could essentially double these numbers for tracks mixed @ 44.1/48k sample rates.

I have had this configuration looping the entire time I've been writing this update. Temps on the M2 haven't exceeded 62ºC, Activity monitor shows 42% CPU usage by Logic.

This system looks like it should be able to handle even more that this, but I get "System Overload" dialog boxes if I add another track with the same CPU-pig plug-ins on it. Still, that's quite a few, and most projects won't be using six separate instances of Sound Designer, Xenon, or the TG Mastering Chain.

So, with prudent and judicious use of plug-ins, with the occasional track freeze, I can probably rely on the MBA alone to run my studio for the foreseeable future, with little concern for thermal throttling and/or instability.
 

Basic75

macrumors 68000
May 17, 2011
1,998
2,346
Europe
I have had this configuration looping the entire time I've been writing this update. Temps on the M2 haven't exceeded 62ºC, Activity monitor shows 42% CPU usage by Logic.
If you really want to see what's going on you should look at powermetrics(1) in Terminal.app. This will show you much more detailed energy and frequency statistics and should help find out whether any thermal throttling is happening. To get started, open Terminal.app and type "sudo powermetrics" to launch or "man powermetrics" for instructions.
 
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