The 7 Best CPUs for Music Production (2023)
CPU stands for the central processing unit. A CPU, also known as a processor, is the main processing unit of a computer and is generally composed of a control unit, a logical-arithmetic unit, and the main memory. In a nutshell, a CPU provides the power and instructions a computer needs to function.
The quality of a CPU matters because it has a crucial impact on a computer’s performance. For this reason, processor quality also affects music production. If you’re making music inside a computer, working with a low-quality CPU can result in a slow workflow, high latency, track limitations, and program crashes.
As a music producer, you want to focus on creating music first and foremost; not on your computer’s performance. To avoid frustrations, it’s important to choose the right processor for making music.
Below, I’ve listed seven of the best CPUs for music production.
The first link below is the Apple Mac Studio which includes the M1 Ultra Chip, all other links in the grid are to the individual CPUs.
The 7 Best CPUs for Music Production (2023)
Let’s look at them in more detail.
1. Apple M1 Ultra
The above linked product is the Apple Mac Studio which includes the M1 Ultra Chip.
The original Apple M1 chip made a huge impact in 2020, boasting eight cores and a 3.2 GHz clock speed. Because it was specifically designed to be integrated into Apple devices, the M1 chip was also great in terms of efficiency. However, upgraded models of the M1 – namely, the M1 Pro, the M1 Max, and the M1 Ultra – were subsequently released in 2021 and 2022, putting the original M1 to shame.
Out of the four M1 chips, the M1 Ultra is by far the better. Arguably the best CPU for music production, it comes with a whopping 16 cores, as it comprises two combined eight-core M1 Max processors. The YouTube channel Max Tech has put the M1 Ultra to the test and came up with impressive results: Apple’s powerful processor managed to load up to 341 simultaneous Logic Pro tracks without presenting any performance issues.
The sheer power of the M1 Ultra, combined with the fact that it’s designed for Apple computers in particular (the machines of choice of most music producers) makes it one of the most commendable CPUs for music production.
2. Intel Core i9-12900K
If you’re looking for a beastly, high-end CPU for music production (and pretty much everything else) you can’t go wrong with the Intel Core i9-12900K. You may have to stretch your budget, but you’ll be good for years and years to come. With a base clock speed of 3.2 GHz that can be boosted up to 5.2 GHz, it should give you more than enough power to run as many samples and virtual instruments as you want.
The Intel Core i9-12900K is also great in terms of single-thread performance, which refers to the number of tasks performed by a program’s single stream of instructions during a certain period. Single-thread performance has a direct impact on a DAW’s usability.
3. AMD Ryzen 9 5950X
To put it simply, the AMD Ryzen 9 5950X is the AMD competitor to Intel’s Core i9-12900K. It comes with a 3.4 GHz clock speed and a minimum of 16 cores (up to 32 if you want to). With a 105-watt power consumption, it’s also extremely power-efficient, especially when compared to other high-quality CPUs.
This beastly processor is yet another piece of equipment that will give you all the power you need to produce music, and even more. With the AMD Ryzen 9 5950X, you can relax and focus on what matters the most: coming up with great tracks, without worrying about annoying crashes and time-consuming sample loads.
4. AMD Ryzen 7 2700X
While clock speed isn’t everything when it comes to CPUs, it’s still impressive that the AMD Ryzen 7 2700X runs at a base clock speed of 3.7 GHz. The 20 MB CPU cache is equally impressive, as well as the fact that the AMD Ryzen 7 2700X can convincingly operate on a computer with relatively low RAM.
It features eight cores and is described as a “high-speed” processor, which makes it an ideal piece of hardware for music producers. It’s not the best AMD Ryzen CPU on the market, but it offers one of the best price-quality ratios.
5. Intel Core i5-11400F
Music production can get expensive, especially when you consider the costs of buying every music-production tool you’ll need to record, edit, and mix music at home. For this reason, it’s important to keep the Intel Core i5-11400 in mind. It’s comparatively affordable without missing out on performance.
While working inside a DAW can push some processors to the limit, an Intel Core i5-11400 should be more than enough to produce most tracks, admitting you’re not working on a megalomaniac music project. The 2.6 GHz clock speed and 12 MB CPU cache are just good enough for performing pretty much any DAW-related tasks.
6. Intel Core i3-10100
The Intel Core i3-10100 is yet another great CPU that can be installed on your everyday desktop, which is great for saving some money. What makes it ideal for music production? In addition to a 3.6 GHz clock speed and 4 to 8 core threads, the Intel Core i3-10100 comes equipped with i3 processing.
Developed by Intel, i3 processing is a family of 64-bit CPUs designed to be installed in entry-level computers. This means they’re compatible with pretty much any mainstream machine, ensuring anyone can have access to a state-of-the-art CPU.
7. AMD Ryzen 5 3600
The AMD Ryzen 5 3600 was mainly designed and marketed for video game enthusiasts, but that doesn’t mean it cannot be used by music producers. A processor that can run any next-gen video game should also be able to fit the needs of every DAW user, and that’s why you can’t go wrong with the AMD Ryzen 5 3600.
Yet another high-end processor perfect for consumers on a budget, the AMD Ryzen 5 3600 boasts a high-performance 3.6 GHz clock speed, up to 12 threads, and even a built-in cooler. Another great buy in terms of price-quality ratio.
What makes a great CPU great?
CPUs have been around pretty much for as long as computers have existed, and they have evolved extensively throughout the years. In the old days of single-processing units (before the democratization of dual-core processors), clock speed was the determining factor to evaluate the quality of a CPU.
Today, though, much has changed. Depending on computer architecture, CPUs with higher clock speed can be outperformed by more-recent processors with lower clock speed. This goes to show that choosing the best CPU is not as black-and-white as going for the hardware with the most gigahertz (GHz).
Four vital components should be taken into account when selecting the best CPU: clock speed, number of cores, CPU cache, and power consumption.
1. Clock speed
Clock speed is the number of cycles executed by a CPU per second. Clock speed is measured in GHz, which means that a 3 GHz CPU runs at 3 billion cycles per second, a 4.5 GHz CPU runs at 4.5 billion cycles per second, and so on. Clock speed is crucial for determining a processor’s quality because it affects the speed of every computer process.
2. Number of cores
You have certainly heard the expressions “dual-core CPU” and “quad-core CPU,” but what does this mean? To put it simply, a 3 GHz dual-core CPU is a CPU that has two processing units, each with a clock speed of 3 GHz. At the moment, commercially-available computers tend to have anything between two and six cores. Because multicore processors can perform various tasks simultaneously, a greater number of cores translates into greater CPU efficiency.
3. CPU cache
The CPU cache is used by the processor to store data and program instructions more efficiently. This component is very important for music production because it’s responsible for speeding up repeated processes – the better the CPU cache, the faster you can execute routine tasks inside your DAW.
A CPU cache is divided into three cache-memory “levels,” known as L1, L2, and L3. L1 is directly built into the processor and measured in kilobytes, while L2 and L3 are located outside the CPU chip core and measured in megabytes.
4. Power consumption
Power consumption is simply the amount of power (measured in watts) required to operate a processor. A quad-core CPU should have a power consumption of fewer than 140 watts, while a slower dual-core CPU should have a power consumption of about 65 to 85 watts.
What about RAM?
You don’t need to understand a lot about technology to know that random access memory (RAM) is important for producing music on the computer. Most DAW-related crashes originate from RAM issues. But while RAM is crucial to determine the quality of a computer’s performance, it is not part of a computer’s CPU.
CPU and RAM work in conjunction to deal with any computer task. While the CPU is the main processing unit, the RAM is the temporary memory storage unit. This means that the RAM’s function is to handle all the active, short-term tasks in the processor.
CPU production: the two (no, wait, three!) big players
Getting a high-quality processor used to be a no-brainer: before competition arrived, Intel was the gold standard. To be fair, Intel continues to be a huge player today, providing excellent CPUs at a relatively high cost. However, AMD has stepped into the picture at least since the release of its powerful Ryzen series, which is more accessible and (sometimes) as powerful as Intel’s hardware.
Intel and AMD topped the market for a long time, developing CPUs for brands as renowned as Dell, HP, and ASUS. However, Apple (which used to rely on Intel Xeon CPUs) introduced its game-changing processor in 2020. It’s called the M1 chip, and it tops the list of the seven best CPUs for music production that you can find above.
All the CPUs listed above should give you more than enough power to run your favorite DAW without experiencing any issues. But that doesn’t mean you need a state-of-the-art processor to come up with great tracks. A high-cost CPU for music production is recommendable if you’re looking to improve your workflow and forget processing problems for good.
If you’re just starting, you should consider investing your funds in music-production equipment first (everything from a good audio interface to a nice microphone) and only later look for a high-performance CPU. To convincingly make music on a computer, you just need the basics: if you have a 64-bit system with a 2.4 GHz quad-core processor and a minimum of 4 GB RAM, you should be fine.