Music production is a specialised aspect of digital media processing. To set up a home studio for music production, you need a comprehensive guide on how to build a PC for Music production in 2021, the audio hardware components you must get, and also software options.
Music producers including DJs, studio engineers, and recording professionals all need specific PCs that will handle the audio processing satisfactorily. This requires knowledge of the right PC hardware for the best results.
Budget for a Music Production PC
One of the major factors that will influence the type of configuration you will go for is your budget. Even if you desire the best configuration available, your budget must come into play. That’s why we’ve made provision for every category of builders – the budget builder, mid-range and high-end.
The budget category is those who are cash-strapped and want something basic. They lay much emphasis on getting the most basic hardware that will still get the job done, without having to pay a premium price. In this category are students, newbies in music production, and casual music hobbyists. The cost range is usually up to £700.
The mid-range category is those that have extra cash to spare. This group includes those that have some experience in the business, students, and enthusiasts. They are not enthusiastic about the latest hardware, but are happy to buy the top-end of the previous generation components because of lower prices. They want the best performance, but don’t want to buy the highest rated components. Budgets in this range stand at £700-£1500.
For the high-end category, money isn’t an issue. They want the best rated and best-performing hardware and are prepared to pay for it. Budgets in this category are from £1500 and above.
For the purpose of this article, we actually recommend AMD processors over Intel because AMD processors offer the best in terms of performance and price. This is not to say that Intel processors aren’t good enough, but when you look at the price-to-performance ratio, you’d realise AMD is your best bet. We are going to be providing our recommendations for both platforms. It is left for you to make your choice of hardware for your music PC build. After all, there’s such a thing as fandom!
The most important components you need to build a PC for Music production in 2021
Wait, surely your sound card isn’t the most important part in a production PC build? Your sound card actually does far more than you may suspect! As well as giving you sound and a volume control, they also affect your latency (this basically means how quickly you hear the sound after pressing a key). There are various options available for different budgets, we usually recommend the Focusrite range of external USB cards as they give superb latency and sound quality, as well as giving you a balanced audio connection to run to your monitor speakers. Balanced cables will cut down on any noise or interference you may encounter with cheaper RCA phono cables – this is a massive upgrade to your sound quality.
Audio processing is CPU intensive, just like similar processing workloads like video editing. Here are some guidelines you need to know about the processor when you need to build a pc for music production. Modern CPU’s are more powerful and provide better performance in apps. Since you want to build a PC for music production, you must be aware that the CPU is the most important component. It must be at least a 4-core chip. However, 8-cores or more is even better.
This is because modern music software and synthesizers are programmed to take advantage of the extra cores available to speed up your projects. Therefore, depending on the complexity of your projects, the more cores you can lay your hands on, the better. Modern music synthesizer software such as Fruity Loops, Ableton, Reason, Pro Tools, Acid, and Cubase all benefit immensely from a multi-core CPU for processing the audio beats and mixing.
The best way to think about RAM is not that more RAM will make your system faster, it’s more that not enough RAM will make it slower. This is as when there isn’t enough ram available to allocate, it will use a bit of space on your hard drive/SSD. This is typically a lot slower than just storing it in the memory, and thus it slows you down.
Plenty of RAM will allow you to load multiple projects simultaneously, and to multitask far better. We recommend as much RAM as you can accommodate in your budget. This is true whether you want to build a PC for music production, or for other media-related stuff. On the budget category, at least 8GB of RAM is enough for most tasks. High-end builds will take as much as 64GB+ of RAM for maximum multitasking and processing speed.
As much as your RAM capacity matters, your RAM speed is also an important factor. Music processing and heavy multitasking do benefit from faster RAM, we would usually recommend at least 3000MHz speed depending on the CPU you have chosen. Just be sure that your motherboard can support the speed specification of your chosen sticks.
You have basically 2 options.
In this category, there are SATA SSDs and NVMe SSD drives. SATA SSDs are limited in speed to a maximum of 550MB/s, however the newer style NVMe drives can achieve speeds as high as 3,500MB/s to over 10,000MB/s!
Due to this extra speed we would say NVMe is 100% the way to go for your main drive (also referred to as your C drive), super-fast storage for this will make your system absolutely fly, although they are more expensive than SATA SSDs – it’s worth it.
The good old traditional mechanical hard drive is always the best option in this area. You don’t need the fastest hard disks for this purpose, so a spinning hard drive more than adequate. It’s usually far more important to have a nice big 2>3TB hard drive for this, it gives plenty of space for backups and storage of even 4K video footage if needed.
Your secondary storage is the drive where you store your user files, which include ongoing project files and completed project files. You need lots of storage space to store your beats, as WAV files can eat up a lot of storage space. You also need a large traditional hard drive for storing your processed music files.
Some users might want to use RAID configuration because of its better data protection advantage, in which case traditional spinning hard drives are pretty much the best case scenario for this.
The motherboard is where all the hardware in your computer lives, they can also have integrated graphics cards, Wi-Fi systems and more. Most motherboards actually do have HD sound cards built-in, but this is not adequate for most studio uses, so don’t be tempted with a better board for the better onboard sound. A dedicated sound card is still preferred in all cases. The motherboard must also support plenty of SATA ports and USB ports to enable maximum connectivity options. Avoid anything other than full ATX boards, because you may be restricted as per connectivity options.
The graphics card doesn’t play any role in music production, because it is mainly designed to handle pixel processing, and then relay the same information to the monitor for output. In most of our recommended builds, we stick with integrated graphics.
However, if there is no option for integrated graphics, we recommend a low-end graphics card that is just adequate for normal Windows operations, nothing fancy. Unless you want to use your PC for other things such as gaming, apart from music mixing and beat synthesis, then you can go ahead and get a graphics card of your choice.
For the DJs who want to live stream their sets with video and 3D effects, then a decent midrange card is usually more than enough to run everything super smoothly.