Has Apple opted out of the music market? Air, Pro or iPad in music production


The annual Apple event is over and it is time to look on what came out of it from a music production perspective. On a high level it is clear that music creators and artists are no longer a focus group of Apple. Instead their new line up continues to target bloggers, designers and photographers. And the price tags makes it even more difficult to make a choice. Imagine that you’ve got $1,300 and you’d like to buy a new Apple laptop. Which one do you choose? The $1,299 MacBook, the new $1,199 MacBook Air or the cheapest MacBook Pro, which also retails for $1,299. If TouchID is what you’re looking for then you’ll opt for the Air, but if you’re looking for the “best” then the Pro is the only answer. Not that you’d understand that from the price list, thanks to Apple’s crushing inability to properly differentiate its products.

Sure Logic and Garageband were mentioned at the event, but apart from that very little came through that appealed to music creators and from a spec perspective one may seriously start to look at the world of Windows as a comparable option. However, the trend is not that surprising after all Apple is the company that removed the headphone jack from its phone in the name of ‘progress’ and removed traditional USB ports from its MacBook Pro line despite widespread support for them among producers with MIDI controllers, audio interfaces and modern synthesizers. The MacBook Pro is also too expensive for most bedroom producers and the MacBook far too underpowered for anyone wanting to do anything more than basic recording and light editing.

Apart from removing a lot of ports and other useful necessities in the studio it is also interesting to see what the new machines are capable from a performance perspective. Just a quick note on the subject of removing ports – why on earth remove the headphone jack from the new iPad? In a phone yes, but on its larger sibling? On the new iPad you get a USB-C port. The good news about this is, you get a single port for connectivity and charging. And it’s the same one you’d use with your later-generation MacBook. On the down side of things – there’s only one port. That means dongles not only for USB-C use, but also you’ll need an adapter that has pass-through charging if you want to charge your iPad and use accessories. Lightning-based accessories are also out.

The new iPad Pro is a lot more powerful than many notebooks on the market and potentially seen as a laptop replacer, however it is still an iOS device, meaning that it’s largely unworkable for artists using DAWs like Ableton Live, Cubase or Bitwig Studio and most of NI’s products. Furthermore the removal of the home button may become an issue when performing live on stage. The new upward swipe for the home button means you’re liable to accidentally exit your controller app.

Anyhow, how a computer is going to perform is obviously dependent on what software configuration you’re running, but there’s a significant difference between the processor on the Air and basic MacBook Pro (sans Touch Bar). On the Air, you get a 1.6GHz dual-core 8th-generation Intel Core i5 processor with Turbo Boost up to 3.6GHz, and on the Pro you get a 2.3GHz dual-core 7th-generation Intel Core i5 processor with Turbo Boost up to 3.6GHz. On paper it doesn’t look like a huge difference, but Pros have a larger cache and faster graphics processing, which means that even a basic Pro should be faster than a new Air. So from a studio perspective Pro would still be the sensible choice.

Another long-awaited update was a more powerful Mac Mini, which Apple has left untouched for the past four years. The new Mac Mini brings with it all the updates you’d expect after languishing for so long. For starters, it comes in space grey now. Apple also added a quad-core chip, with the option to upgrade to six cores, and up to 64 gigs of RAM. It’s got a whole heap of ports, including four Thunderbolt 3 ports and one for Ethernet. Like the MacBook Air, the new Mac Mini enclosure comes from 100 percent recycled aluminum, because sustainability is important. It’s available to order today, starting at $799. However, it’s worth noting that the i3 chip that comes with the $799 mini as standard is Intel’s entry-level option, so you’ll probably want to go for the i5 or upgrade to an i7 if you’re going to use it for serious studio work.

So should you invest in Apple going forward? In part it depends on your budget. If you are able to head for the Pro then yes Apple would still make sense, but if you are short on cash Apple has little to offer the serious creator and ever since the introduction of the touch bar Apple seems to have come farther and farther away from the needs of the everyday musician, not to forget the lack of ports that are essential for plugging in all those nice peripherals we all have stashed up in our studio. If your mouth waters over the new iPad it is understandable, but keep in mind that most music creation tools on iOS are not that super resource heavy so you may be just as well off staying with the one you already have. Conclusively one can say that Apple has just made the task of picking a new device more confusing for musicians, with specs and price points that are largely similar. Apple has created the illusion of increased choice, but actually offered very little to separate its  machines around the $1,200 price level.