MacBook for Audio Recording

Since May, MacBook has been one of Apple’s best-selling computers. Up until the Core 2 Duo upgrade of MacBook Pro’s, it matched its ‘pro’ bro in specs quite closely, with up to a 2.0 Ghz Core Duo CPU and 2 GB of RAM.

As many others, I saw the MacBook as a smarter option for the work I do, plus it would be far more powerful than my then current tower. I do quite a bit of audio and MIDI recording with Cubase outside of my full-time job here at a Mac reseller store, and got one of the 2.0 Ghz white Core Duo MacBooks as my main computer.

I found it quite suitable for audio work, except for a few quirks, which, depending on the audio work you do, will either not bother you, or drive you nuts.

Compared to my Athlon XP 2000+ PC tower, the MacBook seemed like a decent upgrade, with the added benefit of being able to run OS X. I do most of recording in Cubase, though, and I haven’t yet upgraded to SX4, so I’m somewhat stuck in Windows for now. People have been trying to seduce me into using Logic and Digital Performer, but honestly, I hardly have any time to learn another complicated piece of software. I’ve tried out Logic at a friend’s place a few times, and I liked the environment a lot; I can see where the “you can do anything with it” statements from Logic nerds are coming from, even though, to be honest, it will probably take you longer to learn to find ways of doing that ‘everything’ in Logic than in any other DAW.

Anyway, I have had the MacBook for a few months now, and have used it for a number of recording sessions, as well just the typical track-by-track work most of us do at home, and so far I have only one complaint – the fan noise.

The first time I noticed the fans kick in was at about 50% of CPU usage on both cores with the usual VST instruments and effects plugins. The noise wasn’t as low in amplitude as the $700 HP I had a short while ago – it sounded more like the MacBook was about to bid me farewell, take off and fly back to Apple. I tried to move the mic away from the laptop, and record my guitar there, but the noise still showed up in the recording, and actually sounded a lot like tape hiss. Analogue junkies will be delighted.

Hence, this basically means that unless you record all the material prior to any processing or mixing, or you don’t have a separate booth, closet, or bathroom to record in, you will end up with hiss in the recording if, midway through the mixing, you decide to include some background guitars, or perhaps, add a few backing vocals (or, like me, you often get an awesome drum loop in your head while taking a leak, and then you rush to the mic to beatbox it quickly before you forget).

The noise, however, is the only obvious drawback I’ve noticed. As far as the games go, I don’t play anything but Quake 3 nowadays, and it’s now available as both a Windows .EXE file and a Universal Binary for OS X (Q3 is now open source, apparently, so you can get binaries for all sorts of operating systems for free, provided that you supply the .pk3 file that comes on the original CD). That bit of news certainly made this year worthwhile.

And then, with 2 GB of RAM, and 2.0 gHz of dual-core power (almost like 4 gHz), there is plenty of room to run all sorts of FX and instruments. You are especially at an advantage if you’re not a VSTi junkie like me – there is plenty of horsepower to mix your tracks without ever reaching the tape hiss point. And, of course, we’re going to assume that you have an external monitor to hook up to the laptop: be it a MacBook or a 17″ MacBook Pro, you really do get tired of the laptop screen eventually. The boxing day is soon. Get yourself a cheap 19+ inch LCD, give your eyes a gift this year. They really do deserve a break from all the cooking shows you torture them with every day.

All in all, for the money, you get a pretty powerful computer in a very nice compact casing, and with an attractive price tag, which not only turn the heads of chicks and laptop thieves, but will also be a great tool if you’re doing location recording (6-pin FireWire for bus-powered audio interfaces and HDDs), or like to be able to easily move your recording set up from place to place, like those bands in music videos which always play in the weirdest places, like forests, or abandoned public washrooms.


7 Responses to “MacBook for Audio Recording”

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