If you’re looking to build a new studio PC is 2021, finding the best CPU for music production is one of the most important parts of your buying process. No matter what your budget is, we’ve found some brilliant processors from AMD and Intel that will be powerful enough for your music hobby or career.
In general, DAW software used for music production is quite resource intensive. Depending on the software, plug-ins, VSTs and number of instruments or tracks, you’ll want something quite powerful. A smooth working process during music production is important – and you’ll be able to achieve that with a powerful processor.
Most modern Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) software unfortunately don’t take full advantage of multi-core CPU optimization. Processors with strong single thread performance are ideal, but core count is definitely still beneficial.
When shopping for a new CPU, you will want at least a quad-core processor for music production. A dual-core might be sufficient for basic projects, but a quad-core Intel i5 or AMD Ryzen 5 is recommended. Popular DAW software like Ableton Live requires a dual-core at the minimum, while Pro Tools requires an i7 with 32GB RAM. The clock speed should typically be above 2.4GHz, but the faster the better!
The new AMD Ryzen 5000 Zen 3 CPUs provide the best value for money in terms of music production – however stock is really limited. While Intel has been a top pick for music production in the past, we absolutely love the Ryzen 5 5600X and Ryzen 9 5950X – both beasts in their class!
Expect the upcoming Intel 11th generation Rocket Lake processors in Q1 2021, which should compete better with AMD counterparts.
AMD CPU for Music Production
For everyday usage and music production the latest AMD Ryzen 5000 Zen 3 models offer amazing performance at an affordable price. Right now, we prefer AMD over Intel. If you’re new to the AMD world, make sure you find a compatible AMD X570 or B550 motherboard for your new PC. For music producers, you might want a motherboard with Thunderbolt 3 ports to connect external devices – which are sadly a little hard to find with AMD support built-in.
While the AMD Ryzen 5 3600 might have been launched over a year ago, you might be able to purchase it for sub-$150, which is a great price for an entry-level CPU. For that you’ll receive a 6-core, 12-thread processor that includes a decent CPU cooler too.
From our experience, if you’re a hobbyist, the Ryzen 5 3600 is perfect for DAW use unless you have a ton of tracks or need strong single core performance. The AMD Ryzen 5 3600 is an impressive CPU for music production as it features a quad-core with a 4.2GHz max boost.
At under $300, the new AMD Ryzen 5 5600X (6 cores, 4.6 GHz boost clock) costs around the same as the last-generation AMD Ryzen 7 3700X (8 cores, 4.4GHz boost clock), but has better single thread performance and being newer, is more future-proof.
For the price, this looks like the perfect solution for any home or semi-professional music production studio. It scores a 3386 single threaded performance score and 22210 CPU Mark which absolutely tears Intel counterparts out the water. Great value for money if you can find one!
If you’ve got a large budget, the flagship AMD Ryzen 9 5950X is the best CPU for music production and resource-intensive tasks. However prepare to pay just shy of $800 for this fast processor.
The AMD Ryzen 9 5950X features a whipping 16 cores and 4.9 GHz boost clock, making any DAW software or video editing seem like a breeze. It’s also worth checking out the AMD Ryzen 9 5900X, which costs $250 less. The AMD Ryzen 9 5950X scores an impressive 46178 CPU Mark, making it one of the fastest processors in the world. It also scored 3512 in the single thread performance test – which is ideal for music production and beats the top-of-the-range Intel Core i9 10900K.
Intel CPU for Music ProductionWhile slightly pricier, Intel are the firm favourite when it comes to building a music production PC. If you aren’t worried about budget too much, have decent cooling or really need Thunderbolt 3 compatibility, then consider an Intel CPU for music production. However, recent benchmarks show that Intel has fallen behind with the latest generation of CPUs.
The Intel Core i3 10100 is the latest 4-core, 8-thread CPU that should be sufficient for reaching your music production DAW requirements. It’s got a base speed of 3.6GHz that can turbo up to 4.3GHz. This CPU scores a respectable 2648 single thread performance score, however similar AMD offerings have 20% more performance for a cheaper price from our experience.
The latest Intel Core i5 10600K Comet Lake CPU makes Intel once again the mainstream favourite. The CPU features six-cores, a base frequency of 4.1GHz and a top boost frequency of 4.8GHz. During our tests, the Intel Core i5 10600K had no difficulty in single and multi-threaded workoads during DAW usage, including large sessions.
This proves to be a great bang-for-buck music production CPU, but don’t forget you will also need a Z490 motherboard to take full advantage of the processor. This CPU scores a decent 2941 single thread performance score and 14664 CPU Mark, coming in far behind the AMD Ryzen 5 3600, which costs a whole lot less. That’s something to consider – it seems like Intel just can’t keep up.
If you’re more of an Intel fanboy, want some of the best single thread performance or a professional music producer, the Intel Core i9 10900K is definitely the CPU to choose at the moment. It also offers the best Thunderbolt 3 compatibility (with the the right motherboard like MSI MEG Z490 Godlike), so connecting your external devices like MIDI keyboard won’t be a problem.
The Core i9 10900K features 10 processing cores and can reach an impressive 5.3GHz with Turbo Clock. If that’s not enough, you can overclock it too. This CPU scores a 3174 single thread score and 24106 CPU Mark, which is just behind the Ryzen 9 5950X – the latest flagship from AMD.