The Apple M1 Mac mini dropped in late 2020 and with the new ARM based processor, this powerhouse of desktop computer could be perfect for musicians looking for a solid platform to record music with.
Is Apple’s M1 Mac mini the perfect system for guitarists?
Well, my background with Apple is pretty solid, as I worked for them for over 15 years and have been using them for more than 30 years. I’ve done System 7 through to OS 9.22, all the ‘Big Cats and Mountains’ etc of OSX and I am now currently rocking a new M1 Mac mini in my studio running Big Sur.
With this in mind and the fact I’ve been playing the guitar for over 35 years, I thought I would try and answer this question for anyone looking to get a new Apple Mac to use as the base for a DAW setup.
My main DAW these days flits between Logic Pro X and Reaper, both of which are optimised for the new M1 chipset and so you can run them with no major compatibility woes, and in theory they should both chug along quite nicely.
As a guitar player I use a host of plugins and this is where you might come a cropper with the M1 chipset. As yet, many of the major plugin developers have not re-coded their software to run natively on these new Apple Silicon, ARM based chipsets, so this means your performance may suffer and at worst your older plugins may not run at all.
Luckily, Apple created Rosetta 2 and this will take your older plugins and allow them to run under emulation using some special coding. It essentially fools the older plugins into thinking they are running on an Intel chipset. The payoff is that you aren’t quite as streamlined and ‘super fast’ as you could be, but honestly I’ve loaded a load of my older plugins onto my M1 Mac mini and I have yet to get it to crash or fall over.
Rosetta 2 will automatically install and start to work when you are using an Apple Silicon bases machine like the Mac mini M1.
Should you pay for upgrades?
Traditionally, I would have advised you go for as much system RAM (also called memory) as possible and get the fastest chipset (or CPU) as you could afford. However, these new M1 chips are all the same speed and you can only buy them with either 8GB or 16GB of RAM.
I actually opted for the 8GB of RAM version, as after doing some extensive research I found that 16GB of RAM made very little difference for audio recording, as the M1 chip utilises the RAM way more efficiently than the old Intel chips could ever manage. With this in mind, I would suggest you look at your budget and maybe spend the extra £200 you would save by not upgrading to 16GB of memory and invest it elsewhere (go buy some pedals!), as I cannot get my new M1 to slow down in the slightest with just 8GB onboard.
Currently, I own an Intel 6 Core i9 MacBook Pro with 32GB RAM and an 8 core Mac Pro with 32GB RAM and this new Mac mini is beating both of then hands down!
Should you buy an M1 Mac mini now?
I must also say that this thing is silent and it makes so little noise that it is almost eerily quiet at times, and I have to stop and look at the screen to see if it is actually on or not. This is a huge advantage for anyone using any microphones in the same room, as this computer runs cool and the fan never seems to kick in.
My advice would be don’t upgrade everything, stick with the base model and ride it out for the next 12-24 months. These new Apple Silicon and M1 chips are here to stay and they will only get better and better, so save some money and buy the base level model.
This way you can move it on in a few years without losing much money and upgrade to something even faster when the new chipset matures. And save yourself a further £99 and forget about AppleCare, as its really not worth the extra money.
You will more than likely need a USB C hub or adapter of some kind anyway, so spend your savings on these little extras that you will need to run your new Mac. I found that my M-Audio interface worked straight away, as it has a USB C port, but you may need to budget for some adapters. I even got my Mac Mini to run an old 30″ Apple Cinema Display at full resolution, so with the right connections, these new models can do a lot of great things for musicians.
The PresentDayProduction video, which I have linked below, pretty much mirrors my experience with this new M1 Mac mini and I would suggest you take a look, as the results of their basic tests are pretty astounding.
RRP – Apple M1 Chip with 8‑Core CPU and 8‑Core GPU 256GB Storage GBP 699