Most PCs Ship Within 7 Days

Best PC for Music Production and Audio Engineering – Audio Workstation Configuration Guide (Spring 2021)

Who we are: Orbital Computers LLC, founded in 2013, is a high performance professional workstation manufacturer that specializes in high-end desktop and laptop PCs tailor-made for each and every one of our customers. All of our systems are built and supported entirely in-house from our Mukilteo WA USA facility. We run extensive tests on our hardware with every single application that we support in order to ensure that our customers receive excellent custom-built PCs, expert advice, and lifetime support specific to any of their needs, present or future.

Disclosure: Orbital Computers LLC does not have any partnership or agreement with any component manufacturer, including AMD or Intel. All opinions are our own and are rooted in providing our customers with the most reliable, highest performance workstations at the lowest prices.

Table of Contents

Who is this article for?

If you've got questions about how to configure the perfect PC for audio and music production, then you've come to the right place. For this article, we'll be assuming you're broadly familiar with DAW software (Digital Audio Workstation) and what functions are possible within them but that you may not be aware of the underlying hardware that operates beneath a DAW. We'll explain the considerations for the selection of each component and what features are relevant to music and audio production.

Processor / CPU

Recommended OptionsUse Case
Intel Core i7-10700KVery High Performance
Intel Core i9-10900KNo Compromises
Functions and Considerations

The CPU is of course the heart of any computer, but for an Audio Production PC, it’s far and away the most important component. The ideal CPU will have the best possible single-thread performance (heavily influenced by the CPU clock speed i.e. the GHz value) as well as a decent number of cores (8 is usually more than sufficient). A strong CPU will reduce latency, allow you to run more plugins, and reduce the amount of time needed to perform exports to audio files like .WAVs or .MP3s.

CPU Cooler

Recommended OptionsUse Case
Noctua Silent Cooler Single FanIntel Core i7 CPU
Noctua Silent Cooler Dual FanIntel Core i9 CPU
Functions and Considerations

On it’s face, the job of the CPU cooler is straightforward, to keep the CPU cool. To prevent long-term damage, a CPU will throttle it’s own performance once it starts getting sufficiently hot, as prolonged high temperatures can shorten the lifespan of a CPU. The key to picking the best CPU coolers is to choose one that will never let the CPU get hot enough to start throttling, even under the heaviest loads. This way, the CPU will always reach its maximum potential. For an audio PC, we want to use a cooler that also makes the least extra noise. From our experience and research, we’ve found that the best combination of cooling, silence, and longevity comes from the Noctua Silent Cooler line.

Motherboard

Recommended OptionsUse Case
High Quality Z490 Motherboard*
No Thunderbolt 3 Needed
Z490 Motherboard – with 2x Thunderbolt 3 ports
(Gigabyte Z490 Vision D)
Thunderbolt 3 Needed
*Model Varies Depending on Availability. Brands Include Gigabyte, MSI, ASUS
Functions and Considerations

The motherboard is the central component to which every single device in a computer must connect to in some fashion. A good motherboard will have all of the connectivity you need in a reliable, high-performance package. As long as you pick a new model of motherboard, the performance between multiple motherboards will largely be similar. The brand and model will mostly determine the reliability and the types of connections available on a motherboard. We select our motherboards from premium, high-quality brands such as Gigabyte, Asus, and MSI. Barring special circumstances, every motherboard you encounter from us will allow for these connections at minimum:

  • 8 USB connections
  • A Gigabit ethernet port
  • Speaker and Microphone inputs (although it’s best to bypass those with an audio interface)
  • PCIe slots (for graphics cards and other devices)
  • 4 SATA 3 connections (for standard hard drives and solid state drives)
  • An M.2 slot (for ultra fast PCIe solid state drives)

For an audio workstation motherboard, the main question left to answer is simply whether or not you will need Thunderbolt 3 connectivity. Many high-end audio interfaces connect via Thunderbolt 3. In our experience, the most reliable way to achieve Thunderbolt 3 connectivity is by simply using a motherboard that supports it, rather than using something like a PCIe card.

Sound Card / Audio Interface

Recommended OptionsUse Case
Audio Interface Based on Your NeedsAny
Functions and Considerations

The function of an audio interface is to get Digital and Analog signals in and out of the computer in a way that sounds clean and accurate. It is a highly critical component of any audio and music production set up. The challenge with an audio interface is that they are so broad in their features and connectivity that it’s really best to do some solid research and find one based on your particular needs. One key consideration is whether or not your audio interface will require a Thunderbolt 3 connection, in which case you’ll definitely want to look at the motherboard section of this article.

If audio interfaces leave you wondering where to start, you can check out some of these links below:

https://musicstudioinsights.com/do-i-need-a-soundcard-for-music-production/

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4WUuk1AE7vo

Memory / RAM

Recommended OptionsUse Case
32 GB High Quality RAM* – 2666 MHz, DDR4
Compatibility-Tested
Standard user working with 15-30 RAM-intensive devices, tracks and plugins
64 GB High Quality RAM* – 2666 MHz, DDR4
Compatibility-Tested
Super user working with dozens or more RAM-intensive devices, tracks and plugins at once
*Model Varies Depending on Availability. Brands Include Corsair, GSkill, HyperX
Functions and Considerations

The RAM to provides the CPU with a place to temporarily store any data that needs to be instantly accessible to any running programs, in our case a DAW. In music and audio production, the data that requires the most RAM will generally be samples and sounds, especially from high-end plugins. To give you an idea, here are a few examples of RAM-intensive systems:

  • Loop-playing devices or tracks
  • Recorded vocal or instrument audio tracks
  • Drum devices or tracks that contain individual drum hit samples
  • MIDI devices or tracks playing sample slices

One thing to keep in mind about RAM is that you only need to make sure that you have enough. Additional RAM will have no performance benefit beyond what your computer is actually using. Sometimes our customers will request a large amount of RAM, “just to be safe”. But past the recommended amount of RAM, that budget is best allocated towards a stronger CPU or fast storage. Upgrading past our recommended amount of RAM won’t hurt, but it’s usually the last priority for the budget, especially considering it’s the easiest internal component to upgrade down the road.

Graphics Card / GPU

Recommended OptionsUse Case
Intel Integrated UHD Graphics 6302 or less monitors
Functions and Considerations

For an audio and music production PC, typical graphics card needs of a high-end workstation don’t really apply. What is important is the amount of noise being generated. Our usual choices for workstation graphics cards all have small fans (smaller is usually louder) that generate some extra noise which we prefer to eliminate as much as possible in an audio PC. There are passively-cooled graphics cards out there which don’t generate extra noise, but in the vast majority of cases, they make things more expensive and complicated for little benefit. Intel’s onboard integrated graphics have only been getting better and better over the years. The Intel UHD Graphics 630 can handle 4k displays. The number of displays will mostly be limited to the number of ports on your motherboard, which will always be at least 2.

Storage / Hard Drive

Our RecommendationsUse Case
Primary Drive: 500 GB Samsung 970 Evo+ NVMe SSD
Secondary Drive: 1-2 TB HDD
Best Bang for your Buck
1 or more 2000 GB Samsung 970 Evo+ NVMe SSDMost Convenient
Functions and Considerations

The storage drive(s) will be responsible for the long-term safekeeping of all of your data. In music and audio production, a speedy hard drive is crucial. If you’ve ever felt the pain of scrolling through a large library of sounds and waiting what feels like ages for each one to load, then look no further. For audio and music production, we cannot recommend enough that you use an NVMe (Non-Volatile Memory express) drive as your primary drive where you keep your operating system, DAW, and any current project files. The NVMe drives connect to an M.2 slot on the motherboard instead of a standard SATA 3 connection and their read speeds absolutely dwarf any other types of drives, which means that all of those library sounds can load nearly instantly.

Type of Storage DriveData Read Speeds
SATA Hard Disk Drives
E.g. 1TB Seagate 7200 RPM HDD
100-150 MB/s
SATA Solid State Drive
E.g. Samsung 860 Evo SATA 3 SSD
500-550 MB/s
NVMe M.2 Solid State Drive
E.g. Samsung 970 Evo+ NVMe SSD
3500 MB/s

The NVMe drives run a bit more pricey than the standard SSD drives so if you are trying to save on costs we recommend a relatively small NVMe SSD (i.e. 500 GB) as your primary drive and a 1-2 TB mechanical hard disk drive as a secondary drive for old projects, that way you can still retain the benefits of a fast drive. This is mainly as a cost-saving measure as drive speed is much less of factor for long-term storage. If you prefer the convenience of not needing to move projects around as frequently, then we recommend simply starting with a large 1-2 TB NVMe drive as your primary drive and adding more drives as needed.

PC Case

Recommended OptionsUse Case
Fractal Design Define Mini C or Define 7 CompactAny
Functions and Considerations

The main considerations of a case for audio and music production are mostly related to noise. The Fractal Design Define series is our favorite line of cases. Both the Mini C and the Define 7 Compact feature sound-deadening foam in a compact package without restricting airflow. Using this case and our Noctua Silent fans we were able to reduce the noise level to around <36 dBA.

Power Supply Unit / PSU

Recommended OptionsUse Case
High Quality PSU* – 80 Plus GOLD Certified, Fully-Modular
Wattage matched to your configuration
Any
*Model Varies Depending on Availability. Brands Include Corsair, EVGA, Seasonic, Thermaltake
Functions and Considerations

For an audio PC, it’s important to go with a high-quality PSU, as high-end models will usually contain the quietest fans and will even turn off when the PC enters a low-power state. Cheaper power supplies will also often have a degree of electrical whine, which can be very tricky to troubleshoot in a studio. We’ll also take care of selecting a power supply for you with the proper wattage in order to give you the most efficiency possible for your power usage.

Tags