Building a PC for Music Production and Digital Audio Workstations

music-production-pc

PLEASE NOTE: While this article (and its example builds) are some years old, we now have a thorough, regularly updated big guide article on building a PC for Music Production over on our main site. Check it out!
Now that you have read our warning, you may return to the content of the outdated article:


One of the most popular requests we receive is a build guide for a music production PC that will power digital audio workstation (DAW) software and sometimes external hardware similar to external preamps, My friend would use Graham Slee HiFi here. These are computers specially built for editing and working with audio and music.

Professional music production PCs often come with plenty of RAM, powerful CPUs, and the quietest components you can afford. If you’re looking to build your own professional music production PC, we’re here to help you get started.

Note: before we start, don’t forget to get the right equipment to accurately monitor your mix. It is always a great idea to get the best studio monitors so you have the most authentic representation of your mix without it being coloured by lower quality equipment. Accurate frequency reproduction is paramount to allow the mixer to be very precise with their stereo image.

Without further ado, let’s jump into the builds themselves…

Budget Build ($600, micro ATX)

The budget build here is for those who want to dip their toes in music production or those who are on a tight budget. In fact, for basic music editing, most laptops will suffice. However, once you start including more plug-ins and you begin to go beyond the basics of audio engineering, that basic laptop may no longer cut it.

This build is a step up from most laptops — for considerably less money — and it’s a very good starting point for serious producers.

CPU: i3-6300

i3-6300

The Core i3-6300 is a dual-core Skylake CPU that offers an impressive 3.8 GHz clock speed out of the box, with the ability to overclock that even further. Given that many DAW tasks favor strong single-threaded performance, we recommend a very fast dual core, such as the i3-6300, over a slower (and more expensive) CPU with more cores, such as the i5-6500. High single threaded performance is also what makes this build faster than most laptops.

With hyperthreading, the i3-6300 is still powerful enough for the times where DAW software can take advantage of multiple cores. The i3-6100 is a good alternative if you’re on a tight budget.

Cooler: BeQuiet! Pure Rock

Pure Rock

Beyond single-threaded processing power, another important consideration when building for audio work, is silence. The BeQuiet! Pure Rock provides near silence on a budget. It is fairly easy to install and efficient at dissipating heat without creating too much noise.

RAM: Ballistix Sport 8GB

ballistix-8gb

While nearly all popular DAW software states 4GB of RAM as their minimum requirement, (the exception being the industry standard: Pro Tools with 8GB), it is advisable to have more. With this in mind, we recommend starting with 8GB. If you feel you need more later, it’s easy to add another stick.

Motherboard: Gigabyte GA-H170M-D3H micro ATX

GA-H170M-D3H

Choosing a motherboard is challenging. Look for enough USB ports for all your USB accessories, and quality onboard audio with all of the connectors you need. With these three in mind, Gigabyte’s GA-H170M-D3H is the best choice for a quality micro ATX board on a budget.

SSD: SanDisk SSD PLUS 240GB

Sandisk SSD plus

Silent and fast. Nothing is better than an SSD for your OS and core programs — such as your preferred DAW. With 240GB, you have a good baseline for also loading plenty of VST instrument packs.

HDD: Seagate Barracuda 1TB

2tbseagate

To store all your plugins and your projects, 1TB will be sufficient. As you begin to need more storage — or if you know you already will — do not hesitate to get a larger version or additional hard drives.

Power Supply: Seasonic SSR 450RM

SSR-450RM

Semi-modular and with a semi-passive fan to help keep your system quiet at lower loads.

Case: Cooler Master Silencio 352

silencio 352

The Silencio 352 features sound dampening materials, and is as soundproof as much more expensive cases, while being sleek and compact. The only downside is it can be a bit cramped to work in.

Intermediate Build ($950)

This option provides a ton of performance while maintaining good value. The name of the game: More cores, more memory, more storage and less noise. This is the sweet spot.

Note: This is a dedicated audio build, but can also be a powerhouse gaming build if you add a good GPU such as a GTX 1070.

CPU: i7-6700K

6700k

With four hyper threaded cores at 4.0 GHz, the i7-6700K dominates at single-threaded tasks while providing plenty of headroom for multi-threaded applications. It’s also overclockable, for those who want to push their performance outside the boundaries of what is readily available to the public.

Cooler: be quiet! DARK ROCK PRO 3

dark-rock-pro

As quiet as it is efficient, the DARK ROCK PRO 3 provides cool temperatures and low noise with overclocked chips. What more can you ask for?

RAM: G.SKILL Aegis 16GB

gskillaegis

We’re doubling the memory over the budget build. For 99% of music producers, 16GB of RAM is more than enough.

Motherboard: ASUS Z170-A

asus z170a

High-quality and competitively featured, the ASUS Z170-A is the best motherboard choice in this price bracket. It supports up to 3 displays from onboard graphics. The UEFI is awarded for its ease of use and the audio chip has its own layers on the PCB, increasing the electromagnetic isolation for better audio quality and less interference.

SSD: SanDisk Ultra II 480GB

sandiskultraii

A higher-capacity SSD is never a bad thing. Silent and speedy.

HDD: HGST 2TB

2tbseagate

Once more, the amount of storage you ultimately need is up to you. These HGST drives are particularly reliable.

Power Supply: Corsair RM550x

rm550x

This will provide enough power to overclock to your heart’s content. This power supply is incredibly stable, efficient, and silent.

Case: Fractal Design Define S

define s

Fractal Design’s Define series is built for high-end silent computing. With a built-in fan controller, sound-dampening material and quiet fans, it excels at silence. Enough room for easy cable management and any component you could want, and it accommodates high-end configurations as well.

Extreme Build ($2,000)

Here we hit the epitome of the music production PC. Compared to the previous builds, this is quieter, packed with more features, and better in almost every way. You could spend more money than this on a PC for music production, but you would be unlikely to notice any additional benefit.

CPU: i7-6850K

6850k

The i7-6850K is a hyperthreaded hexa-core powerhouse. Its 3.6 GHz core clock out of the box does not quite match the 4.0 GHz of the 6700K, but it comes with two extra cores, meaning four additional threads. It can also be overclocked to significantly improve its single-threaded performance, just in case you want the best of everything.

Cooler: Noctua DH15

NHD15

Noctua’s DH15 provides unparalleled cooling at astonishingly low noise levels.

Motherboard: ASUS X99 Deluxe

ASUS X99 Deluxe

This motherboard provides more rear USB ports and SATA and memory expansions for any producer. Just like the previous boards, the audio chips are on separate layers and have Japanese capacitors for the highest quality audio.

RAM: G.SKILL Ripjaws V 32GB DDR4-3200

Ripjaws V 2 x 16GB 3200

32GB is more than enough RAM for literally any DAW build.

SSD: SanDisk Extreme Pro 960GB

sandisk-extreme-pro-960gb

We recommend a high-capacity SSD over a faster one. However, if you’d rather go for speed, we can also recommend the Samsung 950 Pro 512GB.

HDD: Hitachi Deskstar NAS 4TB

hgst

Once more, choose the drive you need. We advise 4TB, as it’s a good middle ground for mass storage and will be enough space for most producers. These HGST drives are particularly reliable.

GPU: MSI GTX 960 Gaming 2GB

msi 960 gaming

Because this PC’s chipset does not included integrated graphics, you’ll need a discrete graphics card. MSI’s GTX 960 Gaming provides support for up to four monitors and features semi-passive cooling for silent performance when audio editing (or anything that doesn’t require a high graphical load). If you also want to game, you’ll want to upgrade to something faster, like a GTX 1080 or 1070.

Power Supply: EVGA Supernova 750G2

evga 750g2

This power supply packs enough wattage for any load you may throw at it and able to stay silent all the while. It is one of the highest-rated gold power supplies on the market.

Case: Nanoxia Deep Silence 5

NDS4B

The Deep Silence 5 is the ultimate in silent computing. Everything about this case is silence without compromise. Fan controllers, noise dampening foam, sound dampening grommets on the drives and power supply, everything is considered. Without any compromise to expansion capacity.

Other Considerations

Beyond the build itself, you may need some of these other things:

Operating system: You can use anything you like. We use Windows 10.

Optical disc drive: If you want to burn or read discs, you’ll need one of these.

Sound studio peripherals: If you’re looking to get into recording music, at the very least you’ll likely want a Digital Audio Interface and a microphone.

DAW software: You’ll need software to produce music. Here is a list of today’s most popular choices. LMMS is a popular free option.

PC Peripherals: Unless you already have them, you’ll need monitor(s), a mouse, and a keyboard. You may want a wifi card too.


ONCE AGAIN: In case you scrolled past our earlier warning: While this article (and its example builds) are some years old, we now have a thorough, regularly updated big guide article on building a PC for Music Production over on our main site. Check it out!