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We found that majority of audio production professionals employ Avid Pro Tools as their main recording software, and with some professionals using Apple Logic Pro. These recommendations are based on experience and research after speaking with hundreds of audio recording professionals.

We participated in the Audio Engineering Society (AES) convention in Los Angeles and the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) convention in Las Vegas, where we were fortunate to meet the head on-site technical representative at AVID who sets up systems for major companies such as NBC and Disney. He spent an hour with us discussing the ideal hardware for an efficient Pro Tools system.

Component Recommendations

Processor

According to AVID, the more cores, the better. The more tracks you run, the more cores you want to have. As a test, we performed an upgrade on the 2010 Model 5,1 Mac Pro from a Quad-Core to a 12-core while keeping an eye on the Pro Tools CPU Usage Monitor. The CPU usage decreased by 30% which is great because it improves performance and allows you to perform more intensive tasks.

RAM

For recording, the default memory configuration is fine. However, virtual instruments require a lot of memory. Since memory is low cost these days, upgrading is a good idea. As a general rule of thumb, we recommend 3-6GB of RAM per CPU core.

Storage

In general, we recommend a two to four hard drive configuration depending on your budget and desired performance level:

Primary Drive - OS/Software (SSD) - Includes your operating system, the base Pro Tools / Logic Pro installation, and your plug-ins. An SSD is highly recommended as it will greatly improve how fast the OS and programs startup.
Secondary Drive - Sessions (SSD/Hard Drive) - If possible, it is a good idea to separate your project files and disk cache onto a secondary drive.
Optional Tertiary Drive - Samples (SSD/ Hard Drive) - The performance of one SSD can support both the sessions and samples. For traditional spindle hard drives, having your sessions and samples on separate drives can at times improve performance.
Optional Storage Drive (Hard Drive) - For the larger sound libraries, the traditional platter hard drive is a good choice as they are still much cheaper per GB than SSDs.

  • Hard Drive = Standard spindle technology @ 7,200rpm
    • Hard Drive Bay = ~175MB/s
  • Solid-State Drive - connectivity via SATA3 controller
    • Hard Drive Bay = ~250MB/s
    • PCIe Slot = ~500MB/s
  • Flash Storage = connectivity via PCIe controller
    • PCIe Slot = ~1250MB/s

Graphics

Since the Mac Pro will be primarily focusing on audio, the standard graphics card is fine. However, they generally support only two displays. If you will utilize the video engine for syncing audio and video, we recommend at least a 1GB graphics card. If you plan to have more than two unique displays:

  • Add a 2nd standard graphics card → have four display outputs
  • Upgrade to one performance-oriented graphics card that supports four displays
    • GTX 680 2GB supports four displays and 4K resolution.

Operating System

It’s best to choose the operating system compatible with the primary application you are employing. Our recommendations:
Pro Tools 9: Snow Leopard 10.6.8
Pro Tools 10: Mountain Lion 10.8 or Mavericks 10.9
Pro Tools 11: Yosemite 10.11 or El Capitan 10.11
Pro Tools 12: El Capitan 10.11 or Sierra 10.12
Logic 9 Pro: Mavericks 10.9
Logic X Pro: El Capitan 10.11 or Sierra 10.12

Compatibility

Tower and Cylinder Comparison

Tower

Advantages

  • Ability to add more hard drives and solid-state drives.
  • Ability to upgrade to the NVIDIA graphics cards
  • USB 3.0 connectivity (optional)
  • Lower price

Disadvantages

  • Thunderbolt not compatible
  • Earlier technology

Cylinder

Advantages

  • Thunderbolt 2 connectivity
  • Small sleek design
  • Newer technology
  • Apple warranty (optional / depending on configuration)

Disadvantages

  • No additional drive storage (via external Thunderbolt 2 or USB 3.0 only)
  • Higher price

For reference, here are some 64-bit multi-core Geekbench scores:

  • Cylinder 12-Core 2.7GHz (starting price $5000): 32,500
  • Tower 12-Core 3.46GHz (starting price $2500): 31,000
  • Tower 12-core 2.66GHz (starting price $1900): 24,000
  • Cylinder 6-core 3.5GHz (starting price $3000): 16,000
  • Tower 6-core 3.33GHz (starting price $1400): 14,000

Source: https://browser.primatelabs.com/mac-benchmarks

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