Mac vs. PC: Which OS is better for producing music?
If you have not already cemented your stance on which operating system you prefer for producing music, then the decades-long battle between Macintosh and Microsoft might seem intimidating to someone looking to harness the capabilities of a computer to fulfill their audio goals.
It is, after all, an important decision. A music producer, mix engineer, or anyone working in audio would want a computer with a high processing power that would give them efficient workflow, fast export speeds, and top-notch sound. In the digital age, the computer acts as the driving force and mind behind the music-making process, so it needs to be reliable and able to keep up with modern recording methods.
Everyday technology users as well as audio engineers and musicians all seem to have strong feelings on their chosen side. Both Macs and PCs are top of the line computers that have a lot to offer in their own respective way, but amidst the whirlwind of debates, comparisons, and noise, we still seek to find the answer to the music producer’s ultimate question. One must choose: Mac or PC?
Digital Audio Workstations
One of the main influencing factors in a producer’s choice to go with Mac or PC is which DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) they plan to work with. A DAW is essentially any music production software that allows users to record and manipulate audio on a computer. In both a home studio setting as well as the recording studio, it acts as the heart of the audio production process, with all the recording, editing, mixing and processing being carried out internally through the software on the computer as well as outboard gear. In addition to studio production, this is also the case for live production and live audio. If you are interested in working in audio of any kind, you will be spending a lot of time in whatever DAW you decide to go with.
Most major DAW’s are compatible with both Mac and PC, with some of the biggest and most popular being Pro Tools, Ableton, Cubase, Studio One, Nuendo, and FL Studio. However, there are some DAW’s and various music softwares that are exclusive to MAC, such as Logic and Garageband.
All DAWS are unique and effective in their own way, so it will take some research and hands-on testing to see which one is the best fit for you. They all vary in their interfaces, plugins, controls, and sound libraries, but still carry out the same basic functions for the most part. Pro Tools, Ableton, and Cubase are amongst the most commonly used DAW’s and are considered to be “industry standard” music production softwares.
If you are an engineer or producer that plans to work in Logic or Garageband, then Mac would be the right OS for you by default, as they are exclusive to the Apple brand. However, if you are not interested in those specific DAW’s then both Mac and PC would reign equally here. All DAW’s will perform at the same overall caliber between operating systems (aside from Logic and GarageBand).
Whatever DAW you decide to go with will come with its own library of plugins. Essentially, a plugin is a broad term for a self-contained program or “add-on” that can be added to tracks to modify or manipulate the sound in limitless ways. Examples of these plug-ins include EQ, compression, distortion, flangers, and other effects meant to improve the mix. As you progress in your audio journey and become more acquainted with these plugins, you will want to make sure they are running smoothly and not crashing. Technical support and troubleshooting for these plugins has more to do with the DAW than the OS or computer itself, which is a good thing for you because it means plugin support will be there no matter which OS you chose. In the case that any issues come up with your plugins, it is best to contact the manufacturer of the DAW or software you are using to resolve them.
Most major plugins come available in a variety of different formats that are more than likely compatible with your operating system. There are two exceptions to this though, with the AU format only working with Mac, and the .dll format only working in Windows. For now, don’t worry about this as much. It is more important that you check to make sure the plugins of your preferred DAW are supported by your chosen OS, which they most likely are.
Plugins should run equally as efficiently on both PC and Mac, so unless there is a specific one you need that is exclusive to one OS, this shouldn’t play a huge role in your decision. It is still important to know that some plugins will only work in certain DAWs or OS.
Due to the fact that the Apple brand has built such a strong name for itself, Mac computers and other Apple products on the market tend to be more expensive than PCs and products that run on Windows software. This is also due to supply and demand and the “exclusivity” factor behind Mac, which causes huge spikes in demand for new Apple product releases.
However, the high price tag of Macs are substantiated, as they offer a clean and modern interface, fast processing speeds, and a long life-span. They are seen by many to be the best computers available on the market and have a devoted user base, requiring little maintenance and being excellent for all sorts of creative endeavors, including music production.
Optimization is one of their main strengths, with GarageBand already coming installed on nearly all Mac computers. Apple also offers student and educational discounts, as well as bundles for many of their products and softwares, including Logic.
The Windows brand makes a great case for itself as well, having an equally as seamless and functional interface, high reliability, and a significantly lower price tag. PCs also have the option of adding modifications to improve the power of its hardware, as well as more opportunity for personalization.
If you are willing to shell out the money for a Mac, then you would be making a great investment. But keep in mind that when you buy a Mac, you are spending a lot of money on “the name”. In other words, a PC can pretty much do everything that a Mac can do, except it is in a lower price range because it is not associated with Apple. If budget is a major factor in your decision and you aren’t set on the Apple brand, then going with a PC would be the solid option.
In terms of compatibility, the PC comes out on top. This is due to the fact that PCs are very customizable, offering seemingly endless hardware and software capabilities as well as a long list of compatible external ports, such as USB, USB-C, and HDMI. This means that they come ready to work with many different variations of equipment or technology without needing an adaptor, and are able to accommodate a vast array of programs.
An additional perk of PCs is their flexibility with their various parts to be “upgraded” or “modified” to run at a higher level of proficiency in different settings. For example, one might choose to upgrade their PC’s graphics card to have an improved gaming experience, or their RAM if they plan to run multiple programs simultaneously. PCs are compatible with more software and have better backwards compatibility as well.
Capitalizing on their high demand, recent models of Macs have switched to an exclusive product-specific USB-C as their main adaptor. This means you will need to purchase additional Apple brand products that will convert the output of other technologies to the Mac exclusive USB-C adaptor. Macs also fall short in the category of compatibility by having little to no room for upgrades or modification of any kind, aside from storage and RAM, and are known to have significantly less backwards compatibility than a PC.
Many audio interfaces you may plan to work with, such as MIDI keyboards/instruments, microphones, mixing boards, and various outboard gear are compatible with both PC and MAC, but they may or may not need some sort of external adaptor. Compatibility information can usually be found under product specifications and in the user manual.
If you have any interest in using your computer for something other than music production, plan to add upgrades to it, or don’t want to bother with external adaptors, then PC is the most probable option. Macs are compatible with other interfaces but their USB-C only port will make it costly for each additional adaptor you need to purchase.
So which one should you go with?
If you are looking for an ultra sleek, modern, and reliable computer to produce your music, then Mac is the way to go. Due to their popularity, many DAWs and music making software have been designed and optimized with Macs in mind, slowly but surely making them the standard “go-to” computer for music producers and industry professionals, but this does not mean purchasing a Mac computer will make you a better producer than if you were to purchase a PC. Both are capable of producing high quality productions when used in the right ways.
PCs offer more customization, compatibility, access to software, and room for modifications while also living in a lower price range. If you’re ballin’ on a budget and don’t really care much for Logic or Garageband, then there’s no reason that you shouldn’t go with a PC. The Windows interface is also incredibly sleek, user-friendly, and produces a great workflow. Don’t fall victim to the Apple hype unless you genuinely know you would prefer to use a Mac in a music production setting, because PCs are capable of working just as well.
The bottom line is that the look, feel, and overall functionality of a Mac computer is completely different from a PC computer. Both have different interfaces, run on different softwares, offer different programs, and just work differently. Chances are, you’ve already had experience in using both interfaces and already know which one you like more. It really just comes down to which one you, as the user, are drawn to and think will help to enhance the productivity in your workflow. There is no wrong answer because both are excellent pieces of equipment that will help you immensely in your productions.