Anybody using a Macbook Air for video and/or audio work?

Chew Toy McCoy

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I’m kind of tired of always being anchored to a desk with my 27” iMac and would like to start doing some creative work out and about, but I don’t have the $$ for the ideal Macbook Pro that would work for my creative needs. A 13” Macbook Air with 16 GB of RAM and a 500 GB drive would be about in my price range. I realize compromises will have to be made (limitations are sometimes more inspiring), but I want to make sure it won’t quickly choke. My main software would be Logic Pro, Ableton Live, and Final Cut Pro.

Thoughts?
 

Eric

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I’m kind of tired of always being anchored to a desk with my 27” iMac and would like to start doing some creative work out and about, but I don’t have the $$ for the ideal Macbook Pro that would work for my creative needs. A 13” Macbook Air with 16 GB of RAM and a 500 GB drive would be about in my price range. I realize compromises will have to be made (limitations are sometimes more inspiring), but I want to make sure it won’t quickly choke. My main software would be Logic Pro, Ableton Live, and Final Cut Pro.

Thoughts?
It's my experience that even the MBP has a hard time keeping up with heavier workloads, especially relating to video (and in my case photo as well) editing. Coming from your iMac with that sort of workflow, especially with only 16GB RAM, would be like getting stuck in the slow lane during rush hour in comparison and you'll be pulling your hair out. You should definitely try it out first if at all possible.
 

Roller

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Agree with trying it out if possible. But I think the MBA would struggle at times. And, while it’s certainly possible to use those apps on a 13” screen, I think you’ll find the change from your iMac’s 27” display difficult.

The two Apple apps are available for iPad. I’ve never used them that way, but I assume they run decently. Ableton Live doesn’t have an iPad version. But maybe you could do some work on the go on an iPad and some wherever your iMac is if you can’t afford a laptop that’ll do it all.
 

dada_dave

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I don’t do your kind of workloads nor do I own a AS Mac so I can’t give you advice except that it might be helpful to put out details about your current iMac and your thoughts about how it performs on your tasks to give people who do a better idea of what you might need. Like I’ve got a 10 year old iMac so basically everything in Apple’s lineup would be an upgrade for me including the 13” air.
 

throAU

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I’m kind of tired of always being anchored to a desk with my 27” iMac and would like to start doing some creative work out and about, but I don’t have the $$ for the ideal Macbook Pro that would work for my creative needs. A 13” Macbook Air with 16 GB of RAM and a 500 GB drive would be about in my price range. I realize compromises will have to be made (limitations are sometimes more inspiring), but I want to make sure it won’t quickly choke. My main software would be Logic Pro, Ableton Live, and Final Cut Pro.

Thoughts?

If you feel 16 GB would be enough RAM for your workload its quite likely the MacBook Air will outperform your current desktop CPU wise or at least run it real close (not clear which year iMac you have - but if its older than say a 9000 series intel... it will likely get slaughtered by anything apple silicon in most things).

Definitely look for refurb or run-out 14" M1 Pro models though as the GPU is generally stronger and the CPU will be stronger on multi-thread - and once you spec 16GB and 500 GB storage on an air, you're starting to get close to the cutover point to just jump to a base model 14" Pro - especially if you can find one cheap. Stepping up to the Pro gets you 2x the performance cores and 2x the GPU cores which is no small jump. Plus a MUCH nicer screen. Seriously. The screen.... 😮

There's at least one video on YouTube of a guy seeing how far the M1 base model air can be pushed and he was editing 4k video without proxies with it with minimal issues.

As always YMMV (depends on how big your projects are) and your tolerance for performance will vary, but it can be done.

If you can, definitely try some stuff in store; but in my experience the jump to anything M1 or faster is HUGE. I'm running a 5900X AMD desktop on windows 11 with 64 GB of RAM and all SSD storage (for gaming, home-lab VM stuff) and my M1 Pro 14" MacBook feels snappier at a lot of things.
 
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Chew Toy McCoy

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Thanks for all the responses. My iMac is 2019 (pre-M chip) with 64 GB of RAM. Like I said, I know there sacrifices but I also think a newer model would be zippier. A friend of mine has been doing music production with only 16 GB RAM until just this week.

Part of the reason I have less money for a laptop is I also desperately need to replace my first generation 12" iPad Pro which is really slogging along, but it is the thing I use the most. I'm well aware of the music apps available for the iPad but I also have hundreds of plugins and sample libraries on my iMac that aren't available for iPad. All things considered I'm trying to find a sweet spot within budget.

The screen...the screen on the Air isn't the same quality as the Pro? You're shitting me. I thought we were done with that shit. Is the screen on the Air a lower quality than my 2019 iMac? I'll also looked into used/refurbished Macbook Pros but as somebody who doesn't frequently replace computers I've always been a believer in trying to get a current model which theoretically should mean it will last longer.
 

Chew Toy McCoy

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Am I correct in assuming you can’t upgrade the drive and RAM after purchase in any of Apple’s current laptops? I believe in their history they bounced back and forth between user upgradable and Apple or Apple reseller only and now they landed on not at all period. The price of their RAM and drive upgrade gouging is obnoxious. I bet it makes up a large percentage of their computer profit.
 

dada_dave

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Am I correct in assuming you can’t upgrade the drive and RAM after purchase in any of Apple’s current laptops? I believe in their history they bounced back and forth between user upgradable and Apple or Apple reseller only and now they landed on not at all period. The price of their RAM and drive upgrade gouging is obnoxious. I bet it makes up a large percentage of their computer profit.
I think for the Mac Pro you can upgrade the SSDs (Apple sells upgrades, unsure about third party), but RAM is soldered across the board and none of the others in their lineup, desktop or laptop, officially support upgrading the SSD (probably possible for the Studio). To be fair about the RAM, the engineering benefits of that are quite substantial beyond Apple’s ability to force you to buy the upgrades up front and from them. There is less excuse about the SSDs though - Apple has their own system based on raw modules and controller as part of the SOC which is fine but the SSD modules themselves should be replaceable/upgradable across the board.
 

dada_dave

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Thanks for all the responses. My iMac is 2019 (pre-M chip) with 64 GB of RAM. Like I said, I know there sacrifices but I also think a newer model would be zippier. A friend of mine has been doing music production with only 16 GB RAM until just this week.

Part of the reason I have less money for a laptop is I also desperately need to replace my first generation 12" iPad Pro which is really slogging along, but it is the thing I use the most. I'm well aware of the music apps available for the iPad but I also have hundreds of plugins and sample libraries on my iMac that aren't available for iPad. All things considered I'm trying to find a sweet spot within budget.

The screen...the screen on the Air isn't the same quality as the Pro? You're shitting me. I thought we were done with that shit. Is the screen on the Air a lower quality than my 2019 iMac? I'll also looked into used/refurbished Macbook Pros but as somebody who doesn't frequently replace computers I've always been a believer in trying to get a current model which theoretically should mean it will last longer.
While your mileage may vary, I bought refurbished and my iMac is still going 10 years later. I’ve heard multiple times that generally refurbished models are more stringently tested than new and actually less likely to fail. I think it depends on the product and what have you but refurbished models can be not only cheaper but a better experience.
 

Chew Toy McCoy

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I think for the Mac Pro you can upgrade the SSDs (Apple sells upgrades, unsure about third party), but RAM is soldered across the board and none of the others in their lineup, desktop or laptop, officially support upgrading the SSD (probably possible for the Studio). To be fair about the RAM, the engineering benefits of that are quite substantial beyond Apple’s ability to force you to buy the upgrades up front and from them. There is less excuse about the SSDs though - Apple has their own system based on raw modules and controller as part of the SOC which is fine but the SSD modules themselves should be replaceable/upgradable across the board.

On my current (and past) iMac I was able to upgrade the RAM myself as well as on some past Apple laptops. I bought the chips third party for at least half of what Apple is asking and haven't had any RAM related issues (that I'm aware of). What am I missing?
 

Joelist

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Macs with Apple Silicon frequently outperform on video and audio editing because of the dedicated encoder and decoder blocks (media engines). If you remember what used to be called Afterburner that functionality is now in the SOC. So the best way to see is to test a representative job on an Apple Silicon MBA (borrow or perhaps Apple Store will allow).
 

dada_dave

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On my current (and past) iMac I was able to upgrade the RAM myself as well as on some past Apple laptops. I bought the chips third party for at least half of what Apple is asking and haven't had any RAM related issues (that I'm aware of). What am I missing?
It isn’t a question of reliability (I did the same thing you have) but of performance. Apple Silicon relies heavily on soldered LPDDR5 ram to provide unified memory to both the CPU and GPU simultaneously. Soldering the RAM allows them to use low power memory on package allowing them to use what would normally be low-latency, low bandwidth CPU-only memory as low latency, high bandwidth CPU+GPU memory (as well as all the other accelerators too). It’s an integral part of their SOC’s performance. It’s simply impossible with non-soldered memory to deliver that same solution (definitely not without blowing power budget and for certain ram sizes strictly impossible).
 

Chew Toy McCoy

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Depending on your use case you might get away with an external SSD/hard drive for additional storage? Would that work?


That would work and is pretty much a necessity. I don’t plan to reproduce my entire iMac setup with hundreds of plugins and sample libraries, but I have 1 orchestral sample library that clocks in at about 700 GB. My iMac setup between internal drive and external drives is 8 TB.

TBH I’m a bit of a software hoarder (and developer supporter!) and it will probably be nice to narrow things down to a chosen few and free from the rabbit hole distraction of too many options.
 

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The screen...the screen on the Air isn't the same quality as the Pro? You're shitting me. I thought we were done with that shit. Is the screen on the Air a lower quality than my 2019 iMac?
It's not that the 13"/15" Airs or 13" MBP have bad displays. They're great. We are in fact done with that shit, Apple doesn't make bad displays anymore.

Instead, what's happened is that they seriously upped their game. The 14" and 16" MBP displays use a next-generation version of the zoned backlight tech they first shipped in the Pro Display XDR. This enables HDR and OLED-like contrast ratios.

This new tech doesn't come without tradeoffs. The display's thicker and more expensive and more power hungry than before. The Air and the 13" MBP are Apple's battery life superstar laptops, so even aside from cost and thickness, I suspect the power alone currently keeps Apple from wanting to put this new display tech in the Air.
 

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Instead, what's happened is that they seriously upped their game. The 14" and 16" MBP displays use a next-generation version of the zoned backlight tech they first shipped in the Pro Display XDR. This enables HDR and OLED-like contrast ratios.

Spot-on on that!

For the previous two years I had been using my 13" M1 MBA. It met my modest computing needs, was light weight, and didn't cost an arm and a leg.

After a few months I noticed my eyes would always feel fried after using it for an hour or two (or three). I finally broke down a couple of months ago and took a chance purchasing a 16" M2 MBP, reading that the display tech was considerably better.

Problem instantly solved. I don't know if it's because of the better display tech, or, that it's a larger screen and doesn't need to be as close to my eyes. I'm guessing it's a combination of both. And...it's certainly much better when editing photos in Lightroom when I'm away from my desktop computer.
 

Chew Toy McCoy

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Spot-on on that!

For the previous two years I had been using my 13" M1 MBA. It met my modest computing needs, was light weight, and didn't cost an arm and a leg.

After a few months I noticed my eyes would always feel fried after using it for an hour or two (or three). I finally broke down a couple of months ago and took a chance purchasing a 16" M2 MBP, reading that the display tech was considerably better.

Problem instantly solved. I don't know if it's because of the better display tech, or, that it's a larger screen and doesn't need to be as close to my eyes. I'm guessing it's a combination of both. And...it's certainly much better when editing photos in Lightroom when I'm away from my desktop computer.


This wouldn't be my main computer. Most likely I would just use it when I want to noodle around with some music or do some light video editing in our backyard or cabin. I also live with a drummer and we have a drum/music shed in our backyard but I'm not going to lug my 27" iMac back there just so we can jam for 45 minutes. For more intensive work I would transfer projects to my iMac.
 
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