What laptop should I get to make music on?
August 9, 2004 9:25 AM   Subscribe

Laptop Music filter- Can you help me pick out a computer to make music on [mi]?

I'm interested in making electronic music on a computer and would like to reproduce it live from the computer (so I can manipulate it). Until I can save up to buy a really nice laptop, I was thinking of buying a tower and a flatscreen monitor to set up live (and to save some money). Currently, I've been using Fruity Loops 4.0 plus sound forge to do most of my music making but I'm thinking of getting Reason in the future.

Would a tower with a processor around 2.0 Ghz be able to run most music software without playback problems? Should I get a special soundcard? Should I just save up and buy a particular laptop?
posted by drezdn to Computers & Internet (9 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Regardless of which tower or laptop you get, save up for an outboard USB audio box. I got the cheapest I could find, a $50 Edirol UA-1X with RCA in/out, and it really improves the audio output. For $150 you should be able to get one with 1/4" jacks and mic inputs.

My 2.4Ghz laptop runs Cakewalk perfectly with a mix of audio tracks and MIDI tracks, so I'm sure Fruity Loops will work fine. Reason should work at 2.0 Ghz, too, but if you get a MIDI keyboard and expect to use it with Reason, you'll discover irritating lag issues.
posted by cmonkey at 10:00 AM on August 9, 2004

2.0ghz should be plenty unless you plan on using some really intense VSTi's. the real key is to make sure you have plenty of hard drive space and at leasy 512mb of RAM. if you have XP, musicxp.net is a cool site devoted to tweaking XP for maximum audio performance. it'd probably be best to have a local shop put together a pretty stripped down system for you as opposed to getting one from like dell or hp that'll come pre-loaded with tons of junk to add latency to your playback and recording.

as far as sound cards go, onboard audio will almost certainly be insufficient so try the indigo dj or indigo io if you plan on recording from external sources. and for midi interfaces, m-audio has some great interfaces for your existing gear and some usb devices if you don't have a controller yet.

Regardless of which tower or laptop you get, save up for an outboard USB audio box.

if you have the cash, try to go for a firewire device. they're pretty pricey, but worth it I think!
posted by mcsweetie at 10:03 AM on August 9, 2004

hmm... I don't know. I do a fair amount of music making on my laptop and desktop computers. My desktop is a P3 450mhz and my laptop is a p3 500mhz - slow by today's standards, but they both work great. I regularly use soundforge for editing, and I've used fruityloops in the past. I've used reason too, without any problems at all. I primarily use Logic Audio now.

If you check out and like Reason, I highly recommend chaining it to Ableton Live for live and studio composition.

I use Emagic's outboard USB audio box - which I love, but can't recommend because they're owned by apple now and I dont' think they have plans on supporting windows OS computers anymore. A good alternative is the Quattro by M-Audio.

If I was going to get a brand new machine right now, I'd probably get the smallest laptop I could find that has firewire/usb2.0. Really, I don't feel hindered in any significant way by my 500MHZ. I use VSTi samplers all the time, and yeah, I can't pile on the effects like crazy, but, for what I do, that doesn't bug me.
posted by soplerfo at 10:29 AM on August 9, 2004

I use a 2GHz machine for music including Reaktor, FruityLoops, Cubase SX, and Reason. I've never wished for faster, although much of my work was on the previous 850MHz machine, so I'm probably not pushing the limits yet.

Incidentally, this is an out-of-the-box HP machine, although I have removed some of the cruft it came with.

You might want to consider the M-Audio Delta 2496, which I use. Despite being inside the computer, it has very low noise. It gives you low latency with Cubase and software synths, and you can't beat the price.

Speaking of latency, that's the real reason to get a special soundcard. Built-in audio or a cheap soundcard might sound fine--the audio quality difference isn't huge--but you'll have delays when working with software instruments, especially using a keyboard. Make sure your audio card (or USB or FireWire box) has ASIO drivers, that's what most of the software needs for good performance.

M-audio has some nice cheap keyboard controllers, too - I use this 49-key USB model. If you're a pianist you'll want something better, but for synthesizers it's great.
posted by mmoncur at 10:36 AM on August 9, 2004

the real key is to make sure you have plenty of hard drive space and at leasy 512mb of RAM.

Also, make sure you are using the fastest drives you can afford. External firewire drives are often built with 5400 rpm mechanisms, for example, which is OK for streaming a few channels but will start to hiccup if you try to play back multiple long samples. Get 7200 RPM drives if you have the choice.
posted by Mars Saxman at 11:21 AM on August 9, 2004

Until I can save up to buy a really nice laptop, I was thinking of buying a tower and a flatscreen monitor to set up live (and to save some money).
Is a laptop that much more expensive than a desktype? The thought of hauling a tower, a monitor and the associated 'furniture' to gigs makes me cringe, particularly the instability of a free-standing flatscreen monitor in a live situation.

Have you considered getting a sampling station, or do you intend to build some sounds from scratch on the fly?
posted by mischief at 12:09 PM on August 9, 2004

on that note, have you considered maybe a micro-atx pc? hauling that and a monitor and whatever input devices you needed wouldn't be any more taxing than hauling a guitar head, cab, pedal board, etc.
posted by mcsweetie at 12:31 PM on August 9, 2004

Response by poster: One of the biggest issues for me is amount of use vs. cost. I figure if I can get a tower for between 200 and 400 depending on how much I want it tricked out. In the long run (several months to a year) I'll probably be getting a laptop, but I'm thinking there are some things I can do to a tower (mod it a lot to make it look different) that I couldn't do with a laptop.

As a bass player a tower and a monitor is still alot easier to haul around than a cab, though that Micro-atx seems like a a cool idea (if not a bit expensive).

Thanks for the suggestions so far!
posted by drezdn at 1:42 PM on August 9, 2004

I second Saxman's fast hard drive tip. The lower-end towers from Dell/HP/whatever may not use 7200 RPM drives, which you will definitely want. Of course, if all you're doing is MIDI and you're not recording any audio at all, this isn't so much of a concern. And your soft synths want RAM, so load up.

I say build one yourself. That way you avoid having to disable all the junky components that come with mass-market boxes. Get a mobo without onboard audio, a solid power supply, some quiet fans, a fast drive or two, a solid video card (those pretty looking programs can eat up video resources), and whatever audio card and MIDI controller suits your fancy. As a former Cakewalk tech support guy, I can tell you we recommended M-Audio gear more than any other.
posted by schoolgirl report at 3:27 PM on August 9, 2004

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