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MacBook Air 2014 for DAW

Configure and optimize you computer for Audio.

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Breakpete
KVRist
 
232 posts since 16 Apr, 2003, from Norway

Postby Breakpete; Fri Jul 11, 2014 8:46 am MacBook Air 2014 for DAW

I'm considering a maxed out 13 inch MBA as a replacement for my battered old 17 inch MacBook Pro (early 2008 model). The old Pro has served me well, but it is a beast to lug around, and synths such as Massive will bring it to its knees.

I am attracted by the portability and battery life of the Air. I do however have doubts about its power. It needs to run software such as Ableton Live Suite and Komplete 9 instruments and effects with a decent track count.

Anybody have any experience with a recent MBA? Will it perform adequately?
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tehlord
KVRAF
 
6748 posts since 22 Sep, 2008, from Windsor. UK

Postby tehlord; Fri Jul 11, 2014 9:01 am Re: MacBook Air 2014 for DAW

Not even remotely powerful enough imo.

I had a 2013 Mac Mini last year (2.5ghz i5) and it was crushed by Massive, Synthmaster etc.

Odlly, a multi channel project with Logic plugins or Sylenth for example was ok, but anything that even moves the CPU meter on my desktop would slaughter the Mini.
urlwolf
KVRist
 
225 posts since 23 Dec, 2002

Postby urlwolf; Fri Jul 11, 2014 1:38 pm Re: MacBook Air 2014 for DAW

I had the same question about the surface 3 pro, which has the same CPU.
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djanthonyw
KVRAF
 
6709 posts since 20 Jul, 2004, from Boston

Postby djanthonyw; Fri Jul 11, 2014 1:45 pm Re: MacBook Air 2014 for DAW

Go with the base model MBP 15". You'll thank yourself after.
You are currently reading my signature.
Breakpete
KVRist
 
232 posts since 16 Apr, 2003, from Norway

Postby Breakpete; Fri Jul 11, 2014 8:54 pm Re: MacBook Air 2014 for DAW

Thanks for feedback! I guess the Air is unsuitable for all but the most trivial DAW tasks. I will wait for the predicted rMBP refresh this fall and dig a deeper hole in my pocket :-)
BDeep
KVRAF
 
1744 posts since 13 Feb, 2012, from Amsterdam

Postby BDeep; Fri Jul 11, 2014 11:14 pm Re: MacBook Air 2014 for DAW

I was a bit surprised to hear that Massive would bing a MBA to its knees, seeing that I use both Live and Massive on an MBA. So I did a little (unscientific) test: 10 instances of Massive running (ie spitting out notes) in Live give me a CPU usage of about 18%. This is a mid 2013 base model (1,8GHz i5), mind you. So it's not great in terms of performance but it certainly beats the hell out of an old Core2Duo Macbook I'm sure.

I agree with the idea that you might want a more powerful laptop for a DAW, but I feel it's certainly usable, but it depends I guess on your arrangements and willingness to bounce to disk. YMMV
Breakpete
KVRist
 
232 posts since 16 Apr, 2003, from Norway

Postby Breakpete; Sat Jul 12, 2014 1:41 am Re: MacBook Air 2014 for DAW

@BDeep That's useful info. I doubt I will ever run 10 instances of Massive in an arrangement. Usually my projects are heavy on drum/percussion tracks (mostly samples), with a bass track or two + 4 - 5 synths for leads, pads & fx. But it would be nice if the new rig can handle an instance or two of e.g Diva or some other recent synth if the need arises. I'm not terribly fond of bouncing.
BDeep
KVRAF
 
1744 posts since 13 Feb, 2012, from Amsterdam

Postby BDeep; Sat Jul 12, 2014 3:51 am Re: MacBook Air 2014 for DAW

Just to give you a rough example, I just inserted 3 tracks with Aalto (one of which 4 voices, the other two just 1 - I don't have DIVA, so I used another CPU hog), and 4 instances of Massive, and one of Battery 4. Live reported 35%, Activity Monitor 23%. I didn't include any effects though.
I think a souped up MBA will be able to do what you want, because mine is just the base model. But I think it depends on what you intend to do with your laptop. I use mine for work and want the portability. This is the main reason for me to get the MBA. I feel I can stick with it as a DAW for the time being, because the performance isn't that bad.
If you buy your laptop mainly to use as a DAW then I would follow the suggestions of the others and buy a MBP.
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el-bo (formerly ebow)
KVRAF
 
4516 posts since 24 May, 2009, from A galaxy, far far away

Postby el-bo (formerly ebow); Sat Jul 12, 2014 4:31 am Re: MacBook Air 2014 for DAW

BDeep wrote:If you buy your laptop mainly to use as a DAW then I would follow the suggestions of the others and buy a MBP.


yup :tu: the air is a sexy beast, but the mbp is hardly a monstrosity
C.Bennett
KVRian
 
628 posts since 12 Dec, 2007, from UK

Postby C.Bennett; Sat Jul 12, 2014 3:40 pm Re: MacBook Air 2014 for DAW

I have a maxed-out 2013/2014 MacBook Air for on-the-go writing and it's absolutely fantastic with Ableton Live.

I can run and edit most of my maxed-out 2013 iMac produced tracks on the go. The 1.7GHz i7 can turbo boost to 3.3GHz when needed and absolutely flies. The 8GB of RAM is fine for most things and the 512GB SSD is crazy fast and has enough room to hold the stuff I use. I use 420GB of the 500GB capacity.

Super power hungry plug-ins like Diva work great but you'll probably need to freeze the track once you're happy with it or bounce it to an audio file to free up CPU cycles. This is true of my iMac too. It's a hungry synth.

Of course, a MacBook Pro has twice as many cores and threads but I find the portability and form factor of the Air fantastic and the power you can squeeze out of it is remarkable. It's also worth noting that the regular resolution screen on the Air makes all of my audio apps look great (as intended) whereas they can look a little low-res and fuzzy on my retina MacBook Pro. As far as I'm aware there's only one or two retina optimized audio plug-ins at the moment (July 2014) - which still seems ridiculous considering the retina MacBook Pro has been out for two years.

Hope that helps!
bioroid
KVRist
 
77 posts since 13 Dec, 2000, from San Francisco, CA, USA

Postby bioroid; Sat Jul 12, 2014 8:38 pm Re: MacBook Air 2014 for DAW

[update: ignore this.. proven inaccurate]

I'm running a MBA 2012 and it's still the fastest MBA available (2ghz i7). When they did the refresh in 2013 they focused battery life and took a step back with the CPU. The max you can get now is a 1.7ghz i7, so you may want to look around for an older one if you really want the fastest CPU.

I'm hoping this years refresh will improve the CPU but who knows when that is going to happen.
Last edited by bioroid on Sun Jul 13, 2014 6:55 am, edited 1 time in total.
jdnz
KVRist
 
250 posts since 2 Oct, 2011, from Christchurch, New Zealand

Postby jdnz; Sat Jul 12, 2014 10:21 pm Re: MacBook Air 2014 for DAW

If you want the extra processing grunt of the macbook pro but the low weight of the air check out the 13 rmbp - weight is pretty close to the 13 air, you can option it up with the i7 cpu and 16gb of ram ( and even 1tb of flash storage if you're feeling rich)
C.Bennett
KVRian
 
628 posts since 12 Dec, 2007, from UK

Postby C.Bennett; Sat Jul 12, 2014 10:50 pm Re: MacBook Air 2014 for DAW

bioroid wrote:I'm running a MBA 2012 and it's still the fastest MBA available (2ghz i7). When they did the refresh in 2013 they focused battery life and took a step back with the CPU. The max you can get now is a 1.7ghz i7, so you may want to look around for an older one if you really want the fastest CPU.

I'm hoping this years refresh will improve the CPU but who knows when that is going to happen.

Unfortunately that's incorrect.

The 1.7GHz i7 processor with turbo boost to 3.3GHz and improved architecture in the 2013/2014 MacBook Air outperforms the 2GHz i7 processor from the 2012 MacBook Air in every test, albeit by a small margin. I actually owned a 2012 maxed-out MacBook Air before upgrading to the 2013/2014 maxed-out version.

Not only does it out-perform the 2012 model, the battery life is exceptional. I certainly wouldn't recommend anyone choosing a 2012 model over a 2013/2014 model.

For a basic reference point - http://browser.primatelabs.com/mac-benchmarks
bioroid
KVRist
 
77 posts since 13 Dec, 2000, from San Francisco, CA, USA

Postby bioroid; Sun Jul 13, 2014 6:48 am Re: MacBook Air 2014 for DAW

C.Bennett wrote:Not only does it out-perform the 2012 model, the battery life is exceptional. I certainly wouldn't recommend anyone choosing a 2012 model over a 2013/2014 model.

For a basic reference point - http://browser.primatelabs.com/mac-benchmarks


Apologies for the mis-information. I guess when the 2013 MBA came out, it just wasn't a worthy upgrade from the 2012 for me. But there should be a refresh... any.. day.. now?
Breakpete
KVRist
 
232 posts since 16 Apr, 2003, from Norway

Postby Breakpete; Tue Jul 15, 2014 9:14 am Re: MacBook Air 2014 for DAW

BDeep and C.Bennet, your posts allayed my doubts. Today I ordered a fully upgraded 13" MBA :-)

Thanks to everyone for info and advice!
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