Will my computer run Logic Pro X well?

One of the most common questions we are asked is how well people's computers will perform for music production. Do I need a faster processor, more RAM, or both? What are the benefits of SSDs in music production? In this post, we will take a look at how different hardware specs affect performance for music creators. While this post is Logic focused, much of this translates equally to other DAWs.

Any current Mac that you buy is able to run Logic to some degree. Probably even a higher degree than you think. After all, DAWs have been around for 30+ years and much of the basic functionality is unchanged. That being said, different elements of music production can put more strain on your computer. Below are a few questions to answer to help you figure out what you need.

  1. What kind of music are you producing?

  2. Will you be recording lots of audio directly into Logic?

  3. Will you be using lots AU/VST instruments and Audio FX?

  4. Will you be running lots of software on your computer at the same time? If so, does it also require lots of power (video editing/exporting)?

Each one of these things will require more and more power from your machine, so let's consider how they all add up.


Straight forward setup

What kind of music are you producing?

An indie folk artist producing a demo might only have 3-4 audio tracks of guitar and vocals, a couple of instrument tracks like Logic's "Drummer" and a bass, as well as a some Audio FX like EQ, compression, and reverb. Most base model Macs could probably run this at a modest buffer setting of 128 or 256 without any problems.

A film composer producing music for a feature film with a template of 200+ instrument tracks, 10-20 auxes setup with Audio FX plugins all routed to 10-20 audio tracks they will use to "print" the audio directly in the session as "stems". Some may even print all 200+ tracks as individual audio files for each instrument to prepare for mixing in Pro Tools. In addition, they may have Pro Tools running in the background with a session holding all of their music cues for the entire feature for easy playback of different cues from scene to scene. This will take a machine with significant horsepower, more along the lines of the Mac Pro and iMac Pro. Many film composers even use multiple machines to make their systems run efficiently.

Some Dub and House artists that are producing final tracks directly in Logic might have a session with 30-40 audio tracks containing recordings, loops, and other samples, as well as another 30-40 instrument tracks for all other beats and synths. In addition they will likely be using lots of Audio FX plugins for finely crafting their sound, as well as some processor-heavy mastering plugins on the master bus. This will likely require a machine somewhere between a base model and a fully loaded Mac Pro. Something along the lines of base-model MacBook Pros and above should be able to handle this.

Try to determine how many tracks and plugins you'll be using to better know your processing needs.


Will you be recording lots of audio directly into Logic?


As musicians, we are very sensitive to latency. If we pluck a string and the sound comes a few milliseconds to late, it feels off and we lose our groove. One of the key factors about CPU performance in DAWs is the buffer size (found in Logic > Preferences > Audio). The average Mac CPU is able to handle anywhere from 2 to 4 BILLION calculations a second, so why can't it record one track without latency? Simply put, your computer doesn't always think your tracking session is that important. Your CPU is handling millions of little things all the time, like properly refreshing the screen to show you the right things, like managing the 30 tabs you have open in Chrome in the background. Not to mention all those little utility apps you love, like DropBox, that hang out in your menu bar. But "WHY????" you still ask? I'll explain.

If your buffer is set to 32 samples and you're recording at 48,000 Hz sampling rate, that means your CPU has to check in with the CoreAudio engine 1500 times a second! If it's at 64, then only 750 times a second, and so on. On top of all the other applications running on your computer, you may have other audio processing happening inside Logic that requires lots of attention as well. Every EQ, compressor, and especially sample-based convolution reverbs like "Space Designer" use processing power. A few Space Designers in your session can make working at 32 near impossible.

To summarize, a faster clock speed on your CPU (4.0 GHz vs 2.6 GHz) will help you track at lower buffer settings. But, there's a simple alternative: many audio interfaces offer a "Direct Monitoring" option, allowing you to hear your signal before it gets to Logic. The only problem is that you won't necessarily hear any FX like reverb or Amp simulations while recording. Some interfaces, like Universal Audio, have DSP plugins that run at the source and let you track with basic or advanced FX.


Will you be using lots of AU/VST instruments / Audio FX?

It seems like there's a new sample library or modeled EQ coming out every day. And selection is great, but it's important to understand how these plugins effect your production system.


AU/VST instruments are usually the culprit when it comes to performance. The best libraries feature really complex algorithms that manage all sorts of releastic playback and processing. This applies equally to your favourite acoustic instruments, like orchestral libraries, or big synths like Spectrasonics Omnisphere 2 and Spitfire's BT Phobos. There's no easy way to know which ones are going to require more power, but as a rule of thumb, the following criteria may make a virtual instrument more processor heavy.

  • Newer products

  • Boasts powerful features

  • More expensive

Newer products tend to utilize more recent technology and expect their users to have more recent and powerful computers. So, using lots of newer libraries on a 6 year-old MacBook might be problematic.


Obviously, those fancy features need some extra CPU to do everything they say they are going to do. For example, Spitfire has this to say of their BT Phobos synth:

With an asset base featuring over 20GB of unique hand built BT rhythms, pulses, textures and atmospheres, and a revolutionary polyconvolver engine

Let me tell you, it gives your CPU a run for its money. (It sounds great though)


And of course, if a company is selling a product for big bucks, it's usually because they spent lots of time developing a complex engine for it so that it plays well. This isn't always the case though, as Vienna Symphonic Library products are very efficient, though their prices are comparable with the other major libraries. Make sure to look for reviews of products if you're unsure.


Will you be running lots of software on your computer?For all you multi-taskers out there on older machines, I may have some bad news.


As mentioned before, everything on your Mac needs the CPU. Something as simple as watching a YouTube video can use up a lot power, especially as more and more videos go 4K (720p and 1080p are usually fine). Certainly though, any pro application that has processes running (video export, Photoshop batch processes, etc.) while you're trying to run Logic will potentially interfere with your session.


If you're not tracking much, live or MIDI, don't feel afraid to raise the buffer up to 1024. Performance will be much more reliable and you won't get nearly as many error messages!


Summary

In the end, a faster multi-core CPU, with SSD storage, and more RAM will always help performance. You just have to know your needs, your budget, and then find the right balance that works for you.


What kind of computer are you running? Does it work well for you? Let us know in the comments below or take our survey!


Happy music making

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