Apple's first in-house processing chip, the M1, has enormous potential to boost Mac speeds, enhance processing power, and optimize the workflows of Mac users. Reviewers and Apple themselves have often focused on demanding processes—like graphic design, data analysis, and music production, as the areas that will benefit most from this revolutionary new tech.
With new Mac devices like the Mac Mini now coming with the M1 chip inside, we'll look at whether this device changes things for music producers and if Apple's claims are genuine.
Apple's Claim About the M1
The M1 system-on-a-chip is Apple's most powerful chip thus far and has been designed specifically to optimize Mac devices in areas of efficiency, processing power, performance, and memory. Packed with a staggering 16 billion transistors, it is supposedly world-leading in computer processing unit (CPU) and gaming processing unit (GPU) performance, battery life, machine learning capacity, and more.
What does this mean for producers? Generally speaking, processing audio is an extremely demanding task for your computer. Applying effects, manipulating materials, and creating your medium all hog huge amounts of processing capacity—often causing your Mac to slow down during large tasks.
According to Apple, their 8-core CPU, superfast unified memory, and machine learning accelerators that come as default with the Mac Mini allow producers to run more effects, process more audio, and export far quicker than ever before.
What Do Producers Say About the Mac Mini?
A quick trawl of Google search results, Reddit threads, and YouTube videos will show in an overwhelmingly positive general perception of the Mac Mini in a production capacity. Many voices out there focus on the excellent price-versus-performance tradeoff that you get with this particular Mac model, with huge jumps in processing power achievable starting at around $699 for the 8GB random access memory (RAM) and 256GB storage version, and just $200 more for the 16GB RAM/256GB storage edition.
Recordings are smooth even at ultra-high-definition, editing is fluid even with multitracked projects that are common among electronic music producers, crashes are rare. Moreover, saving or exporting these huge projects is instantaneous.
The device's lightning-fast processing speeds for rendering audio, thunderbolt connectivity, and portability mean that you can run tonnes of plug-ins, tracks, and filters, all at the same time—without having to sacrifice power or speed. Across the board, from internal speeds to external look and feel, the Mac Mini excels, providing producers with the performance and reliability they need to be able to produce, mix, and master their music.
Potential Downfalls of Using the M1 Mac Mini for Music Production
While there are some clear advantages to having an M1 Mac Mini in your studio, the picture is not 100% positive. Just like we wrote in a previous article on M1 compatibility for games, many audio plug-ins like reverbs, equalization, mastering, distortion, or compression do not work natively on M1 devices. They have to be ported using Rosetta 2 or parallels. For some companies, this can mean that plug-ins either run very slowly or not at all, as developers struggle to change over their software to suit these new devices.
The limited amount of ports and desktop nature of the Mac Mini—where you'll need to bring your own monitor, keyboard, and mouse—mean that the device can put quite severe limits on accessibility for professional studios. So, it's probably only suited to producers with a smaller setup.
There are also some reports of issues occurring when transitioning audio projects created on non-M1 devices over to the new chip, where some components like plug-ins won't load correctly. However, these are minor points compared to the benefits, and Apple will resolve most of these issues with time.
The Mac Mini Is a Powerhouse for Music Production
While music producers may face a few teething issues with the Mac Mini, it is clear that the benefits outweigh the hindrances a million times to one. A cheap price tag, vast processing power, and gorgeous design all mean that this model could fit perfectly into your music production workflow, whether it's in the bedroom or in the studio.
If you're considering upgrading your setup, definitely consider this one as something that could change the way you make tunes!
If you've just picked up a Mac Mini, here are some tips on what to upgrade and how to do it.