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Apple M1 for Music Producers: Everything You Need to Know

Oct 20, 2021

Do you need to upgrade to an Apple M1 computer? What advantages can this have for your DAW, Waves plugins and music production setup? Learn what you need to know in order to streamline your audio workflow with the new Macs.

By Dan Cooper, Waves Audio

Apple M1 for Music Producers: Everything You Need to Know

Since the new M1 ARM-based Silicon chip debuted, Apple’s computer landscape has been going through a radical change. First introduced in the 13” MacBook Pro, Mac mini and iMac, the new M1 (and the even newer M1 Pro and M1 Max) chips promise significantly enhanced performance for music production, mixing and other pro audio tasks.

Luckily, many DAWs are already M1-compatible. You can visit your DAW manufacturer’s website to learn about their compatibility, plus check out our own page about Apple M1 Support for Waves Plugins for up-to-date information.

This article covers the most important things you need to know about how Apple's new computers can benefit your music production workflow. If you are considering switching from an Intel-based Mac to M1 in your studio, read on to find out some of the main audio-related benefits and tips.

M1 Benefits for Music Producers, Sound Designers and Audio Engineers

Different people with different studio setups will of course have somewhat different experiences. But based on my own recent extensive experience with an Apple M1 computer in a music production studio, here’s what I believe you can expect.

1. Faster Audio Processing

Many early M1 adopters are busy music producers, mix engineers and sound designers wishing to streamline and speed up their audio production work. Let’s look at how Apple’s new processors promise to contribute to this goal.

Traditionally, computers housed a bunch of dedicated components serving sound, graphics, memory, storage and processing, to name just the most important tasks. With M1, everything is integrated into a single unified System-on-a-Chip (SoC), including on-chip memory. Gone are the days of interchangeable RAM modules. With M1, RAM is part of the SoC and is described by Apple as a Unified Memory Architecture. This allows the CPU, GPU and other cores within M1 to exchange information super-fast, accessing memory simultaneously rather than copying data between one area and another. This all-in-one design is what gives the M1 its performance and speed.

Apple’s transition to their own home-brewed Silicon chips did not come as a big surprise to hardcore Apple fans. For many years, Apple centered their mobile devices around Silicon chips to remarkable success. With their recent A-Series chips, iPhones and iPads got faster and more powerful year on year. It was only a matter of time until Apple introduced Silicon into their desktops and laptops as well.

2. Finally, a Whisper-Quiet Studio Computer

Most desktop and laptop computers running power-hungry creative applications can heat up pretty quickly. With the heat comes noisy fan operation to cool the components. And when loud fans kick in during microphone recording, headaches follow as you try to fix noisy tracks.

M1 Macs (except the current M1 MacBook Air) have a fan, albeit tiny ones. Based on my own experience, you will struggle to hear them, even under heavy processing load. M1 computers run super-cool and quiet, which is a HUGE deal for producers who record and mix in the same room.

3. Eco-Friendly

The M1 Mac Mini consumes less than 40 watts of power under a high load. Previous generation six-core i7 Intel Mac minis used three times that, and old school Mac Pro Towers used eight times as much. Not only does the fan not kick in when running massive DAW sessions in M1, but based on my recent experience the electricity bill can also be lower!

4. Instantly On

M1 machines boot from cold in around 3 seconds – ready to rock. It takes longer for an average flat panel display to power up. When creativity strikes, which in a recording studio often occurs quite suddenly, M1 is ready and waiting pretty much from the moment to power it on.

M1 for Producers: Tips to Consider

Alongside these significant benefits for your production and mixing workflow, there are also a few things to consider regarding M1-powered Apple computers for music production:

1. Choose Your Specs in Advance

Defining your specs in advance, without much opportunity to change things under the hood later, is very much a given in a modern-day Apple product. Apple wants us to spec our machine when we order it and be done with it. Yes, we cannot get inside an M1 and change over RAM modules or hard drives – but with M1, that isn't the point anyway. With M1, everything is on one chip and is highly tuned to work flawlessly and at blistering speeds. If you need extra RAM, this needs to be specified when ordering the machine, and the same is true for internal storage. If you need extra storage down the line, the only options are external Thunderbolt or superfast USB drives. Luckily, there are many hard drive enclosures on the market for 2.5” SSD’s and super-fast NVMe drives. If you use an M1 Mac mini, there are many products that match the aesthetic and design of the computer while giving you extra ports.

2. Make Sure You Have Enough Ports

The first generation of entry-level Apple M1 machines include only a few ports. If you have a lot of audio interfaces and devices, your studio will need a dock of some kind for additional USB-A, USB-C and Thunderbolt connections.

This is true of the first generation of M1 Macs. On October 18, 2021, Apple announced the next chapter in M1, with M1 Pro and M1 Max processors to be available in the new MacBook Pro range. With this announcement, more integrated ports and larger internal storage options are finally on offer. As more models transition to M1 in 2022 and onward, such as the rumoured Mac Pro and pro-focused iMac, Apple may provide even more I/O and system configuration. Only time will tell. One thing is certain: in the near future, the audio industry will become increasingly M1-compatible and optimized, helping you make the most of any M1 system.

Should I Transition to Apple M1 Now?

This depends on many factors:

- Does your computer struggle to cope with your sessions?
- Is it loud and slow?
- Can you afford to invest in a new computer?
- Can all the software you rely on either support M1 or work via Rosetta 2?

If the answer is yes to a few of those, then maybe it's time to consider a new M1 Mac.

As of October 18, 2021: If you want to buy an M1 Mac today and have it delivered to your door tomorrow, your options are the 13” MacBook Pro, Mac mini, or iMac, all with the first generation of M1 Silicon processors. Apple just announced the next versions of M1 processors – M1 Pro and M1 Max – offering up to 64GB of Unified Memory on the M1 Max chip in a redesigned MacBook Pro. These systems are available to buy today with shipping estimated for custom systems mid-November 2021. Apple originally stated that their entire line-up would transition to the new System-on-a-Chip within two years. We’re just into the second year of that roadmap and already have a lot of choice.

If you are a hardcore Waves plugin user, you will be thrilled to learn that all our plugins (V13) are now fully M1-compatible on M1-supported DAWs.

Whichever M1 computer you consider buying, be sure to check and double-check compatibility before you buy, for all the software you rely on in your studio. This will prevent any surprises when setting up your new computer.

Want your Waves plugins up-to-date with Apple M1? Upgrade to Waves V13 here.

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