Best Mac for music production 2020? Apple Silicon M1?

Best Mac for music production 2020? Apple Silicon M1?
Written by: Dexxter Clark, 21-11-2020
Apple released their first Apple Silicon Macs. They call the processor M1.
What does that mean for us Music Producers?
Is it the future? Should you buy one?

Although ARM has been around a long time, it is only the last 10 years or so that it caught on in mobile phones and tablets.
Apple bought a license a started producing their own processors for their iPhones.
It made absolutely no sense for Apple not use it in their Macs too.
They have engineers, the have the supply chain, they have designed the product and can now pocket all the money that they otherwise would give to Intel.

There is however one HUGE problem.
Different processor architectures are highly incompatible with each other.
It’s like talking French to an English person.
You can’t run a program from one architecture on another.

Apple switched before from PowerPC to Intel.
Which didn’t go quite as smoothly as they promised.
They provided a translation from PowerPC to Intel, called Rosetta.
In theory you could run a PowerPC program on an Intel CPU.
I’ve tried it, but I couldn’t get any software working with Rosetta.

Now Apple switched to their own ARM implementation for the Mac, they call it: M1.
The M1 runs iPhone and iPad apps natively, because it is basically the same processor.
We have Rosetta 2 to run Intel based programs, and we have universal binaries (a computer program that is compiled for 2 types of processors).

But where does that leaves us as music producers?

Well, we have a bit of a dilemma when we want to buy a new Mac.

Apple’s typical lifecycle of a product is 3 years.
After 3 years, they stop with software updates, including important security updates (there are some exceptions with extreme vulnerabilities).
Using an Apple after that period of time on the internet is VERY RISKY.
This is also why I advise against 2nd hand Macs older than 3 years, because you buy unsupported hardware.

Apple announced that they will shorten the typical support cycle from 3 to 2 years for Intel based Macs.
This means: not only no support from Apple, but every other 3rd party software developer stops making Intel based software for Intel Macs too, because the new platform is simply Apple Silicon.
In other words, when you buy a Mac now, it is obsolete within 2 years.
It is basically burning money.

When you buy an M1 Mac, software compatibility will be an issue.
As far as I know, there are no DAWs yet that run on the new ARM based Macs, except Logic from Apple itself.
FL Studio says it’s working on an update, so does Steinberg, Native Instruments, Reason and a couple of others.

But we have Rosetta 2, right?

Just like Rosetta 1 was used to ease the transition from PowerPC to Intel, Rosetta 2 has the same purpose, but for Intel to M1.
Rosetta 2 might give false hope regarding to compatibility.
While Rosetta 2 may work fine for a lot of simple programs, that is another story for hardware intensive programs like DAWs and video editing software.
These take advantage of highly optimized code to work best on a certain type of processor for example.

The goal of Rosetta is a “quick-and-dirty” solution to get stuff working to bridge the gap for those 2 transition years.
Rosetta was never optimized for something like real-time processing.
Which can lead to latency, crackles in audio and other unintended side effects.
How amazing it may be for some applications, it is still software emulation, not the real-deal.

Even IF DAW software makers would be up-to-date, we still have a whole ecosystem of plugin makers who are not.
This can take a while.
And probably some (smaller) plugins will never be updated.

Upsides and downsides

I have no doubt in my mind that Apple will pull it off eventually after the first bumps, it’s Apple after all.
With the industry slavishly copying everything Apple does, I think it will have a positive effect on the industry as a whole.
I think it is an important step forward.

The M1-chip is a so-called SOC (System On a Chip).
A lot of components that previously existed on motherboards as separate chips (like the M2 security chip or memory) are now integrated in one chip.
This way the chip is more energy efficient and faster (because components are directly connected) and smaller as a whole.
And because it is basically the same chip as in the iPhone and iPad, those apps run natively on the new Apple silicon.

But there are long-term downsides.
It means also that memory expansion is impossible.
Choosing the largest amount of RAM possible when purchasing the computer has become a must.
Especially for the music producer that likes to use sample based instrument plugins.

Also repairing a computer has become more difficult, because there is less to repair.
It is also an incentive for Apple to declare computers “dead”, when they normally could have been repaired by a 3rd party, just to push you to buy a new Mac.

Also Apple’s ecosystem has got a little bit tighter.
This is beneficial for Apple, but if it is for the consumer ...

My Advice

Apple has a history of extremely short support for first generation devices, like the first generation Apple Watch and iPad.
As early adopter, you are basically a bonafide beta tester.
Therefore my advice would be: wait a while before you switch to M1 Mac.

Wait out this first generation, maybe even the second and hop on the wagon then.
Apple had the time to iron out the kinks of its first generation M1’s.
In the meantime, software manufacturers of DAWs and plugins have had the time to play catch up.


If you are serious about DJing and want to take it to the next level on the CDJ,
you should check out my CDJ 2000 video course.

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photo author dexxter clark
Dexxter Clark
Music Producer / YouTuber

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