Macbook for Audio Recording, or not?

Discussion in 'Buying Tips and Advice' started by ben88, Feb 9, 2009.

  1. ben88 macrumors newbie

    Feb 9, 2009
    Hi everybody,
    I need some advice on two main things. (1) Whether you think my existing Macbook is capable of doing what I want it to do? (2) If not, what would be the most appropriate machine for my needs?

    I'll try and get to the point, but first I'll fill you in on some background information. About 3 months ago I got a 2.4ghz alu-Macbook. It's fantastic! Being a long time dissatisfied Dell/HP/Windows user it's a breath of fresh air, and it's now being used more-or-less as a desktop replacement (productivity, entertainment etc.). I say 'more-or-less' because there are some other demands I'm not sure it can fulfill.

    I'm a musician and I've got into music recording in the past year. I'm not by any means an audio professional, but it's a growing and serious hobby. Before I bought the Macbook, I'd (perhaps foolishly) decided to upgrade my 4 year old Dell Desktop (PCI soundcard, microphone pre-amp etc.), and buy some fairly expensive software, and at the time it worked OK. However, it has since become a nightmare. It's intollerably slow, and crashes frequently. I've tried many things to remedy this, but I think it's safe to conclude that it's finished.

    Therefore, I'm pratically left with the Macbook. Remember, at the time of buying the Macbook, I didn't envisage it as being a fully fledged desktop replacement. I'd always intended on running a desktop/laptop set-up, and intended to get another Windows desktop within two years.

    What should I do then? Should I try and use the Macbook for all my needs? This raises it's own issues. I would like to continue to run Windows for software demands and a bit of medium demand gaming, but would not feel comfortable partitioning the Macbook's 250gb harddrive. Is the lack of firewire a massive disadvantage for me? I ideally want a new firewire audio interface, but would settle for USB. The external harddrive is the main problem however. I plan on documenting a pretty huge CD collection on iTunes, and the Macbook is slow when recording to an external non-firewire harddrive.

    Or should I get a replacement desktop sooner rather than later? I know your all probably biased towards Apple, and to be honest I am! But in that case what Mac desktop do I get? An iMac? It would do the job. I'd be inclined to get the 2.8 ghz 24 inch. The problem is that I've got a fairly new 24 inch monitor, so that would be deemed irrelevant. Or a Mac Pro? I would love one. But they're expensive, and it would probably be overkill for my needs. But then there fully customizable, and, most importantly, it's got OS X.

    However, saying that I would still like to run Windows. Does anyone have any experience in knowing how adept is a Mac Pro at running Windows?

    I'm sorry if i've bored you. I've tried to be as concise as I can, but this dilemma is driving me crazy! With the benefit of hindsight I should have probably opted for a high-end Macbook Pro.

  2. Demosthenes X macrumors 68000

    Demosthenes X

    Oct 21, 2008
    If you go for the lowest-possible Mac Pro configuration (single quad-core processor), it's within spitting distance price-wise of the top-end iMac. And you've got a monitor, so you'd be set. Refurb Mac Pros can be had for $2000 with the single processor.

    There's also a new Pro coming soon, so when that comes out they'll clear out the old stock at even lower prices. It won't be brand new tech, but the current MP will do what you need, so it's an option.

    You could always buy the iMac and sell your existing monitor, too.

    But any way you cut it, I think you'll be wanting a desktop. The MacBook is a fantastic machine, and could probably handle what you're asking, but trying to record audio in and output the file to a USB harddrive on the fly is a bit of a damper, imo. FireWire would be greatly preferable, I should think.

    One last thought: have you considered selling the MacBook and upgrading to a MacBook Pro? Plug it into your existing monitor and you've got an instant desktop, and it's got Firewire. If you need to run Windows, you can get 500GB 7200 RPM laptop drives now - that should give you enough space to run both OSs comfortably, especially if iTunes is going to be stored externally.
  3. pianojoe macrumors 6502


    Jul 5, 2001
    N 49.50121 E008.54558
    As a professional musician / sound engineer using both a MacPro and a MacBook, I'd say:

    If you're "only" recording (and maybe using external synths), the MacBook will be fine. If you start using software synths (other than the built-ins), you may soon get into trouble, CPU-wise and HD-speed-wise.

    I use my MacBook 1.83 for field recording. No prob capturing 16 tracks, doing some mixing, and applying some FX. Very responsive too.

    On the other hand, my current Logic Project holds 80 channels and about 20 software instruments. This almost brings down my old-faithful 1st gen MacPro. I also use lots of FX, but they're HW accellerated (UAD).
  4. desiringGod macrumors regular

    Feb 15, 2008
    Have you thought about selling your Windows software and using that money either for a new Mac,appropriate software, or upgrades to your macbook (ram, hard drive, etc)?

    Thats what I did last year. I had a windows computer that crashed and we bought a MBP. We cannibalized all of the programs and made much more money on it than trying to sell the computer straight up.

    That way you don't have to worry about partitioning, Windows, etc.
  5. ben88 thread starter macrumors newbie

    Feb 9, 2009
    Thanks for your advice so far!

    Hi Guys,
    Thank you very much for your time and advice so far. Very informative! In response to 'Demosthenes X', I have thought about selling my Macbook and replacing it with a MBP, but I don't think it would make financial sense. Let's say I sold it for £800 at a 25% or 30% depreciation of it's original price, and then spent around £1700 for a 2.53 ghz MBP. I'd still lose £900, and that's desktop territory. I've also become quite attached to my Macbook!

    I'm coming to the conclusion that it would make a lot of sense to get a new desktop. Although my MacBook is probably powerful enough in itself, I feel I would need to upgrade it with more RAM and the biggest possible hard drive. Even then it would be marginal when it comes to storing my current and planned future data (i.e. huge iTunes library). The lack of connectivity options (e.g. firewire) is not insurmountable, but I think it would be enormously inconvenient now and going forward, both for music recording and other things. For instance I've got a TV near my computer that I would like to utilize as a monitor occasionally, and I don't think my MacBook would adequately cope with a dual-monitor setup.

    On this basis I would seriously consider the single-processor Mac Pro. If I got a Windows PC i'd probably be spending £900-£1000 anyway, and I'd then be stuck with Windows of course. Either way I think I'll wait until the new iMac's/Mac Pro come out before making a definitive decision.

    I'd still like to be able to run Windows though, not neccessarily just for the music software, but also for other Windows compatible software I've accumulated over the years. Although this is probably not the right thread, can anyone tell me generally how easy it is to run Windows on a Mac? Is there a disadvantage in doing this? I've read conflicting evidence, and would greatly appreciate some further advice.

    Thanks again,
  6. claimed4all macrumors 6502

    Sep 26, 2008
    Very easy to run Windows, just go to the Windows on a Mac forum section for more help. They now make a 7200rpm - 500gb harddrive that will fit in the macbook, very easy upgrade and an upgrade to 4gb of ram is easy also. Then again, if you are recording music you should be doing that directly to an external drive. Also your macbook would utilize the TV as a monitor just as well as any other computer out there, they work very well on dual monitor setups.

    Just give it a shot with the macbook for awhile, you should be more than impressed with the way it handles all of this.
  7. mattyb240 macrumors 6502a

    May 11, 2008
    Your Macbook would easily handle a dual monitor set up! And windows is very easy to set up either using bootcamp or Vmware Fusion. No issues, nothing conflicting? As I am not sure what your referring to? Its like using a windows machine as that is what it becomes in bootcamp!
  8. ben88 thread starter macrumors newbie

    Feb 9, 2009
    Dual Monitors

    Hi again and thanks for your continued help,

    In response mainly to 'MattyB240', I assumed that the Macbook wouldn't be able to run two big monitors due to the fact that there seems to be a noticeable performance drop when using the Macbook's native display in conjunction with an external monitor. For instance, when using 'spaces' or 'expose' their seems to be noticeable lag. I've checked the activity monitor and the use of the 'system memory' seems to shoot up. It's not a big issue however. Running dual monitors isn't a neccessity for me.

    It's good to know that Windows won't be an issue. I assumed that it wouldn't be but I read somewhere that demanding programmes didn't run as well. I haven't studied it greatly, as I'd always planned on getting another Windows desktop eventually.

    The Macbook-only option I'm sure would be adequate for the time being. It would just mean that I would have to upgrade the Harddrive to 500gb, and preferably the RAM to 4gb. It would also mean that I would have to get a USB audio interface instead of a Firewire interface. To be honest I'd much prefer a Firewire interface as I've read that USB interfaces do not render sound as well and are prone to latency problems. Another problem would revolve around a USB hub. Presumably if I plugged either the audio interface or the external harddrive into a connected USB hub there would be a significant performance shortfall from either one of the peripherals? I suppose I would just have to leave the hard-drive disconnected, but would have to remember to plug it in occassionally for backup.

    It's a complicated issue, but there's no rush!

  9. ben88 thread starter macrumors newbie

    Feb 9, 2009
    Sorry! I misread 'Claimed4All's' advice about an external harddrive, and based my last post on the assumption that an internal drive would be adequate; so sorry if I didn't make sense when talking about leaving the external HD disconnected! I'd knew about the need for an external or at least seperate harddrive before. See the link:

    I have no doubt that the Macbook is powerful enough to acheive to do the job music-wise. However the lack of connectivity would be the main problem- the lack of firewire being the big bummer. The more things I look into concerning the Macbook for audio recording and editing, the more obstacles there are to overcome. That's why I think a new desktop would be the most appropriate option, perhaps at the end of the year or when Snow Leopard comes out. Either an iMac or a MacPro.

    One last though however. Would there be any possibility of getting a tech guy to install a firewire port in the Macbook? I know it's a stupid question and probably doesn't deserve an answer. If only I had opted for the MBP! I just didn't foresee my PC deteriorating like this.

  10. pianojoe macrumors 6502


    Jul 5, 2001
    N 49.50121 E008.54558
  11. claimed4all macrumors 6502

    Sep 26, 2008
    If you really wanted to go the iMac - MacPro route, I think the macpro would be overkill. Have you also thought about the White Polycarbonate Macbook. It has firewire, it may not look as good as the aluminum one, but it will do what you want. If you are worried about latency, go to your local music shop and see if you can rent a USB unit or how easy they are on their return policy if it does not work as well as you planned. Also, there is no way to add firewire.
  12. thomanjones macrumors regular

    Dec 26, 2006
    I think you will be the happiest with a low-end refurb Mac Pro. keep in mind that even a low-end MP is built like a tank, has ridiculously high resale value, and can run for years in mission-critical environments with barely a hiccup.

    Being able to update video and/or audio cards will help future-proof you as well.

    Personally, I didn't know what the all the fuss was about for the MPs, but after configuring a few at work for our media department, they almost seem UNDERpriced.

    Whichever way you go, remember to buy applecare - education discount or ebay is worth checking out as well.
  13. ben88 thread starter macrumors newbie

    Feb 9, 2009
    Unfortunately I don't see an alternative option but to at least get an iMac, being that I want a Mac anyway. Tell me, is USB that much of a disadvantage when it comes to recording audio? I would certainly be best off recording to an external harddrive, as you say, but does the lack of firewire make a discernable difference? I only really at the moment want to make a high quality recording of an acoustic/electric guitar with some midi bass, effects, and drum loops, for practice, to share with people etc. Bear in mind that I also want to store a big iTunes library in excess of 200gb and run Windows-only compatible software including some games.

    I'll try with the Macbook for the moment but I don't feel comfortable using it for all of these demands. I would have to upgrade the harddrive for windows of course, and/or buy a USB audio interface and new software to use for OSX. That's quite a bit of money right there, and I'd rather just buy something that would last for a while. I've already wasted enough money.
  14. ben88 thread starter macrumors newbie

    Feb 9, 2009
    Sorry but get what? The upgrade stuff, the interface, and the software, or another Mac?
  15. dolphin842 macrumors 65816

    Jul 14, 2004
    I think an iMac would be a good bet. Fast desktop-sized hard drive, firewire, and dual-display capability. This of course assumes that you will always be recording in one place.

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