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Well, with db's blessings to do so, I guess it's time I get this review started. 🍎  :popcorn:  😎

 

First of all, let me get the disclaimers out of the way. This is the first review of any sort I've undertaken since Harmony Central was purchased in April of 2020 (by parties I can not reveal - sorry) and I left my full-time position as Senior Editor and Site Administrator there and became the Senior Editor for Gibson Brands. That's my current day gig, so that's disclaimer #1. The opinions expressed here are my own, and are not endorsed by or associated with Gibson Brands in any way whatsoever. Disclaimer #2 is that I am reviewing my own personal Mac Studio; this review is not sponsored or supported by anyone or any company, and is unlikely to be fact-checked. While I generally prefer to give manufacturers the opportunity to fact-check my reviews, I doubt Apple will be the least bit interested or cooperative on that, so please keep that caveat in mind.  

 

By now, most Mac-interested folks have probably heard about the new Mac Studio, which was announced at Apple's event on March 8, 2022. I ordered mine that very day, and received it near the end of March, and have been using it since that time. Since it was a non-standard/built to order configuration, it took a bit longer to get to me than if I had opted for one of the two stock/base configurations. 

 

For those unfamiliar with the Mac Studio, it measures 7.7" W x 7.7" D (the same width and depth as the Mac mini) and is 3.7" tall, making it a bit more than twice the height of a Mac mini, which is 1.4" tall. The aluminum case is very similar looking to the Mac mini, only taller.

 

The Mac Studio is available in two primary versions - one with an M1 Max SoC processor and one with an M1 Ultra SoC processor. The M1 Max version weighs 5.9 pounds, while the M1 Ultra weighs 7.9 pounds. The weight difference is primarily due to different heat sinks, with aluminum used in the M1 Max and copper in the M1 Ultra. 

 

The M1 Max Mac Studio has 10 CPU cores - two efficiency cores, and eight performance cores - and sells for $1,999. The base model M1 Max has 24 GPU cores and 16 neural cores for machine learning tasks. It can also be built to order with 32 GPU cores for an additional $200. Since my use is primarily for audio recording (and extra GPU cores really don't help with that), I opted for the base 24 core GPU model. RAM on the base model M1 Max Mac Studio is 32GB, and you can have one built to order with up to 64GB of RAM, but that will add $400 to the price. Again, I opted for the base 32GB memory. One important point to note is that the RAM can not be upgraded on any of the M1 family SoCs later since it's integrated into the SoC (system on a chip) as opposed to being socketed, so keep your future needs in mind when ordering, because what you get is what you'll be stuck with for as long as you own the computer. 

 

The M1 Ultra essentially takes two M1 Max chips and combines them, so the M1 Ultra Mac Studio base model comes with 64GB of integrated RAM, 48 GPU cores, 32 neural cores, 16 performance cores, and four efficiency cores (for a total of 20 CPU cores), and sells for $3,999. As with the M1 Max Mac Studio, the price goes up from there, depending on whether you opt for the model with 64 GPU cores (an extra $1,000), 128GB of RAM (an extra $800), and/or a larger SSD. 

 

Speaking of SSDs, the onboard SSD options for both machines are similar, but the base SSD size differs, with the base M1 Max Mac Studio coming with a 512GB SSD, and the base M1 Ultra Mac Studio shipping with a 1TB SSD. I opted for the 1TB SSD for my M1 Max Mac Studio, which added $200 to the price tag. A 2TB option adds $600 to the base M1 Max Mac Studio's price tag, and 4TB and 8TB options are also available for an extra $1,200 and $2,400, respectively. On the M1 Ultra Mac Studio, going from the stock 1TB drive to 2TB adds $400 to the price, with the 4TB drive option adding $1,000 and the 8TB drive option adding $2,200 to the base price. 

 

Yes, Apple does charge a LOT for expanding the RAM and the SSD storage on their computers. Some folks derisively refer to this as the "Apple tax" and since you can't expand the RAM afterwards, you really have no choice but to bite the bullet and pay Tim Cook and Co. for the amount of RAM you want/need. 

 

Can you expand the internal storage later? Maybe someday, but not yet. Here are teardown videos of the Mac Studios:

 

M1 Ultra Mac Studio: 

 

 

 

M1 Max Mac Studio:

 

 

 

At ~5:55 (M1 Ultra) and ~1:40 (M1 Max) you'll notice that both versions have socketed SSDs, and there are two sockets on the motherboards for both Mac Studio models, with both sockets being used for machines with 4 or 8TB of storage, and only one socket being used on machines with 2TB or less of onboard storage. 

 

While the socketed SSDs are potentially a good sign for future expansion (or at least servicing by Apple, in the event your computer's SSD dies), it appears that Apple is software-locking these slots - even when Max Tech tried to add or replace a SSD from another Mac Studio, it wouldn't boot. So for now, you should consider ordering a larger SSD when you purchase the system and, again, at least for now, assume that you won't be able to expand the internal storage later. 

 

 

 

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What about OUTBOARD storage expansion? Yes, of course that's an option, and the new Mac Studios come with a much better selection of connections to the outside world than the M1 Mac mini and the various M1 family Mac laptops do. 

 

 

connections__ett8cnl3is8y_large.jpg

 

All Mac Studios have four Thunderbolt 4 ports on the rear. These support speeds of up to 40 Gb/s. Each of the four ports has its own dedicated controller built into the Mac Silicon SoCs, so they each offer full bandwidth - there's no sharing of bandwidth between the ports. These ports also support USB 4 (40Gb/s) and USB 3.1 Gen 2 (10Gb/s), so you have lots of options for fast external storage. There are also two USB-A ports, each of which supports speeds of up to 5 Gb/s. 

 

Thunderbolt / USB 4 drives and even Thunderbolt enclosures are fairly expensive. Prices are a bit better and your options expand if you're willing to go with USB 3.1 Gen 2 external drives, but you do take a performance hit if you go that route. 

 

Let me put this into perspective. I have several SATA SSD drives in external enclosures. They typically deliver 300-550 MB/s, which is much better than the ~80 -160 MB/s you'll get from a decently fast 7,200 RPM HDD. The 5 Gb/s USB-A ports are fast enough to handle that, and you won't see any performance improvement, even if you connect them (using an adapter or hub) to one of the Thunderbolt / USB-C ports. Here's the speed results for one of my SSD drives - a Samsung 850 Evo 512GB model:

 

 

635525917_Samsung850Evo512GBSSD.png.1753f51666e7500f869f6e933081ee7c.png

 

 

Not bad, although a little lower than it potentially could be. Setting that aside, let's take a look at the speed results for an NVMe SSD drive (a Western Digital Blue SN550) in a USB 3.1 Gen 2 enclosure: 

 

 

464034049_WDBlue5501TBNVMe.png.8dbbdd3476e06c72b60c4bb76cd74734.png

 

 

Much better, right? That's performing close to what the USB 3.1 Gen 2 connection allows for, and it is really fast... but wait! You haven't seen anything yet. Let's have a look at how the internal 1TB SSD performs. 

 

 

781429709_M1MaxMacStudioInternal1TBSSD.png.77db322e9d2280e4f28ce3758297064d.png

 

 

That's over FIVE TIMES faster on disk reads, and six times faster on disk writes than even the speedy USB-C 3.1 Gen 2 / M.2 NVMe SSD external drive is providing! 

 

What is the moral of this story? If you're a composer who uses a lot of virtual instruments, particularly ones with huge sample libraries, you may want to consider paying extra for an internal SSD that's large enough to hold all of your sample libraries. Chances are, even if you opt for expensive Thunderbolt external drives (and I do plan on adding one eventually), you won't get anything faster than the internal drive. Had I realized just how fast the internal storage is, I may have decided to get at least a 2TB internal drive instead of 1TB. While I don't use a ton of VI's, the speed of Apple's internal drives is undeniable.

 

  

 

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One more point of difference between the two Mac Studio versions. The M1 Max has 400 GB/s memory bandwidth, while the M1 Ultra has an incredible 800 GB/s memory bandwidth. They move data around at incredible speeds,  and the CPU and GPU cores can all access the same memory. While some folks online claim that this, along with the integrated RAM, results in 32GB of RAM performing similarly to 64GB of RAM on an Intel system with socketed RAM, I personally think that's hogwash. It does appear to make a noticeable difference, but it's not giving you twice the performance that the amount of RAM would otherwise suggest.

 

As you can see from the picture in the previous post, the Mac Studio (both versions) also have a 10Gb Ethernet connector, the power cable attachment (the power supply is internal), a 3.5mm headphone jack that works with high impedance headphones, and a HDMI port that supports 4K video @ 60Hz. Monitor support is the same for both versions - you can connect up to five displays on either model. I currently have only two connected - one via a USB-C connection and one via HDMI. 

 

 

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When it comes to connections, another difference between the two models is the front panel ports. 

 

static_front__fmvxob6uyxiu_large.jpg

 

 

On the M1 Max Mac Studio, those are USB 3.1 Gen 2 (10 Gb/s) ports. On the M1 Ultra, they're Thunderbolt 4 ports. That's right - the Ultra offers SIX full-bandwidth Thunderbolt 4 ports. 

 

The SD card slot is the same on both models. It's a SDXC card slot (UHS-II) supporting speeds of up to 312 MB/s. While not particularly useful for audio folks (unless you're using a field recorder that records to SD cards), video editors and photographers will appreciate the inclusion of the SDXC card slot on the front of the computer. And having those two front panel USB-C connectors is really handy for when I need to connect an external drive, thumb drive, USB keyboard or wind controller, or other peripheral that isn't part of my "normal" (permanent) setup. 

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While the Mac Studio is the same width and depth as the M1 Mac mini, it's quite a bit taller. If you watched either one of the teardown videos, you probably noticed that a lot of the extra internal volume on the Mac Studio vs the Mac mini is occupied by the cooling system. There are two rather large fan units built inside the case that take up a lot of the internal volume. It's a much bigger and beefier cooling system on the Mac Studio, which makes sense, given the more powerful chips they use. What does that mean for radiated noise levels?

 

I had a M1 Mac mini for a few months, and even when it was pushed, the darned thing was virtually silent. I literally had to put my ear an inch or two away to hear anything at all from it. I never heard the fan(s) in it "ramp up" in any way whatsoever. It's one of the things I loved about the M1 Mac mini. Apple rates the SPL level of the M1 Mac mini at 5 dBA at the operator position. They rate the SPL level of the Mac Studio (both models) at 15 dBA SPL. What does that mean in real-world terms? 

 

The noise floor of my studio's control room is roughly 30dBA SPL. That means that even though I tried to measure the noise levels of both the Mac mini and the Mac Studio, I was unable to do so - they're both below the noise floor of the room they're sitting in. I'd need an anechoic chamber to measure either one accurately. While the M1 Mac mini was virtually silent unless you practically put your ear in contact with the case, the M1 Max Mac Studio is just barely audible when it's sitting on my desktop and I'm at the "operator position," which in my case is about arm's reach away from the front of it. If I get up and move to the couch at the back of the room, it's completely inaudible - and this isn't a particularly large control room. 

 

While I still have not tried recording with any live mics in the control room, I seriously doubt that noise from the computer is going to be a significant issue for anyone, but if you're extremely sensitive to a very soft hiss and you've been using a fanless M1 Macbook Air, then the noise level of the Mac Studio may be a disappointment. However, you can use a third-party app to adjust the fan speed.

 

When set to their automatic speed setting (stock), the fans in this M1 Max Mac Studio run at around 1,300 RPM, regardless of the load. No matter how hard I've run the system, I've never heard the fans ramp up to a higher speed. 

 

They can be manually set to run anywhere from 1,100 RPM to a max of 3,500 RPM with a third-party app. At the highest speed, they're easily mistaken for a leaf blower - they're very loud. Setting them to their lowest setting of 1,100 RPM does lower the perceived radiated noise level a bit, compared to the "auto" setting (1,300 RPM) making it extremely difficult to hear anything at all from the operator position. The app I am using to test this with is called Macs Fan Control, and it's available for free from the Apple App Store. 

 

What about cooling? Is there any performance throttling or a significant increase in heat levels when you drop the fan speed from their usual 1,300 RPM down to the minimum speed of 1,100 RPM? Per my testing, the answer is no. Even while running simultaneous Cinebench and Geekbench 5 tests, the max temps didn't rise more than a couple of degrees Celsius with the fans set to their lowest speed. In fact, I've yet to see the temperature of anything hit 50 degrees (Celsius), no matter how I had the fan speed set or how hard I was working the computer, so if fan noise is a concern, you can probably safely set them to their minimum RPM speed and then forget about them. Okay, just to be safe, keep an eye on your temps, but if your experience is the same as mine, your computer will safely run with the lowest fan speed without any thermal issues whatsoever.   

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Well, that's it for now. Tune in again (next week?) when I continue this review. I'll be getting into benchmark scores, as well as some real-world performance examples showing just how many tracks, plugins, etc. this thing can run. 

 

Also, please remember: this is an interactive review. Your comments, corrections (someone has to fact-check me, and I doubt Apple is going to do it), questions, and suggestions/requests are all welcome, so please let me know if there's something specific you want to know about, want me to try, etc. and I'll do my best to make it happen. :wave:

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Hey, it's great to see Phil reviews again! Great job.

 

Re the internal SSD - when I got my new PCAL Windows computer, one of the most shocking aspects was the boot time from the internal SSD. It literally was only a few seconds, compared to incredibly lengthy ones from the old hard drive.

 

So your comment about wondering if you should have paid the Apple Tax for more RAM has me curious. How much does the OS take up? And what about your current roster of programs? I'd be curious how much of the SSD space was left over after you had your basic needed programs in place.

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10 hours ago, Anderton said:

Hey, it's great to see Phil reviews again! Great job.

 

Re the internal SSD - when I got my new PCAL Windows computer, one of the most shocking aspects was the boot time from the internal SSD. It literally was only a few seconds, compared to incredibly lengthy ones from the old hard drive.

 

So your comment about wondering if you should have paid the Apple Tax for more RAM has me curious. How much does the OS take up? And what about your current roster of programs? I'd be curious how much of the SSD space was left over after you had your basic needed programs in place.

 

Thanks, Craig!

 

I had right at three quarters of the 1TB system drive left after getting everything installed, so I'd estimate it's got about 250GB of program files installed on it right now. That changed just a bit earlier today because I installed DaVinci Resolve (a free video editing app that Ken Lee recommended), but it's still basically at the same. Most of my virtual instrument libraries are loaded on one of my external SSDs. That's another 200GB or so; even if I had installed those to my system drive, there would still be over half of its capacity left. But I only have audio (and now video) stuff on the drive. Outside of Google Chrome and the apps that Mac bundles with the computer, there really isn't any other software on it. No Microsoft Office suite or anything like that. It's meant to be a dedicated, uh, studio Mac Studio.  

 

I am going to be recording to the system drive since it's so fast, and then backing up / archiving to external drives. 

 

Even though I had full Time Machine backups from the M1 Mac mini, and even though it was also running Monterey, I decided to load everything from scratch on the new computer, so it's taken a while to download and reinstall everything, but it's all finished now. It would have taken much less time had I opted for a transfer from the mini, or a restore from a Time Machine backup, but while it takes longer to do everything from scratch, the advantage is that I don't have to ever wonder "what if..." in the event that something goes south. This way, I KNOW it's not as a result of not starting fresh with a clean install of everything. 

 

Boot speeds are insanely fast. I haven't timed it yet, but I will try to do that soon and report back. Pro Tools loads everything and launches in mere seconds, too, and I have a lot of plugins. If Apple ever allows for disk upgrades, I will probably consider it since the Apple SSDs are just so blazingly fast. As far as RAM, I never really hit the brick wall with the 16GB M1 Mac mini, and 32GB was always more than enough with my previous Pro Tools PC, so I am hopeful that my decision to stick with 32GB for the Mac Studio will be the right choice. So far, it hasn't been an issue at all. Good thing too, since there's no way (short of selling the computer and getting a different one) of adding RAM to it. 

 

 

 

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I use 32 GB on my Windows machine, and it has never been a bottleneck. But, I don't run sessions with 4 million tracks of virtual instruments.

 

I'd be using the Studio solely for Mac-specific programs like Logic. The only major programs I use that aren't cross-platform are Cakewalk, Acid, Samplitude, and Vegas, so if the Mac Studio blows me away, I could migrate other programs over to it. I guess the biggest issue would be what to do with all the Windows VST plug-ins...

 

However, it's more likely that anything I'm using on my Windows desktop, I'll keep using on my Windows desktop. It's been tricked-out specifically for the kind of audio and video projects I do, is super-quiet, and faster than greased lightning. If it ain't broke...then again, there are some programs that started on the Mac, and are still kind of Mac-centric. I assume, for example, that Digital Performer and Pro Tools might run better on a Mac.

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I'm still mainly a Pro Tools guy. I'm currently running PT Ultimate 2021.12 on the Mac Studio, with an Avid Carbon interface and a Universal Audio Thunderbolt 3 Octo Satellite. One nice thing about Logic is that it's already M1 Native. Pro Tools isn't yet, so it's running via an emulator. It's fast and works great on Apple Silicon, but I can't help but thinking its true potential is at least somewhat limited by Rosetta 2. I've seen videos with people running six, seven HUNDRED tracks in Logic on Apple Silicon systems. Who needs that many tracks? Certainly not me... but if you're doing the score, foley, ADR, and everything else audio-related for a big budget film, I suppose it may come in handy.

 

Never fear - I'm going to try to hit this thing with as many tracks as it can handle. Like I said... stay tuned. :) 

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Just thought I'd call out some key frustrations with my Mac Studio since setting it up. These aren't necessarily Studio specific but from some Googling it appears I'm not alone. They are really only niggles, but still very annoying:

 

1. The new Apple Bluetooth keyboard does NOT work at login unless I plug it in to a USB port. This never happened on my old iMac. Sort of defeats the purpose of the Bluetooth keyboard.

 

2. When going to sleep, the Studio crashed and restarts and I get the 'your Mac restarted because of a problem'. The details show a kernel panic on going to sleep and appears to be fairly widerspread.

 

:thu:

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On 4/19/2022 at 12:00 AM, Dr Nursers said:

2. When going to sleep, the Studio crashed and restarts and I get the 'your Mac restarted because of a problem'. The details show a kernel panic on going to sleep and appears to be fairly widespread.

 

Does the crash happen when you initiate sleep and then it restarts without going to sleep, or does it sleep and then crash upon re-starting?

 

I suspect it's a situation where sleep isn't delayed sufficiently to allow current processes to complete...but that's just a guess.

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On 4/18/2022 at 10:00 PM, Dr Nursers said:

Just thought I'd call out some key frustrations with my Mac Studio since setting it up. These aren't necessarily Studio specific but from some Googling it appears I'm not alone. They are really only niggles, but still very annoying:

 

1. The new Apple Bluetooth keyboard does NOT work at login unless I plug it in to a USB port. This never happened on my old iMac. Sort of defeats the purpose of the Bluetooth keyboard.

 

2. When going to sleep, the Studio crashed and restarts and I get the 'your Mac restarted because of a problem'. The details show a kernel panic on going to sleep and appears to be fairly widerspread.

 

:thu:

 

 

There have been some reports from some folks that Bluetooth could be an issue with some of the M1 Mac minis, but I never experienced that with mine. On the Mac Studio, the location of the antennas is different, and all reports I've read so far prior to your post say it's a non-issue. Nevertheless, when I first got mine, I used a Lightning cable and USB-C adapter to connect my keyboard directly while I was setting everything up, then switched over to using my Apple Magic Keyboard with Touch ID via Bluetooth, which has worked flawlessly for me so far. However, that's currently the only Bluetooth accessory I've tried with the Mac Studio. 

 

https://www.apple.com/shop/product/MK293LL/A/magic-keyboard-with-touch-id-for-mac-models-with-apple-silicon-us-english

 

As far as going to sleep, that's something that is known to cause issues with Pro Tools (and possibly other DAWs), so I always turn that off anyway. Avid recommends doing so, and states that Pro Tools does not support Sleep Mode.

 

https://avid.secure.force.com/pkb/articles/en_US/readme/en328011

 

Sleep Mode also causes some connected Avid hardware to disconnect, and you can only reconnect it after rebooting. It's a known issue with Avid Carbon, which is the interface I currently use. Before I turned Sleep Mode off, I had one instance where my external drives disconnected from the Mac Studio. That was when I was still getting everything set up. I walked out for a while to grab a bite to eat, and the computer went to sleep, and when I came back, all of the drives gave me "you didn't disconnect me properly" scoldings. Ever since disabling sleep, all drives have stayed connected unless I specifically disconnected/unmounted them. 

 

You can turn Sleep Mode off by going to the "Apple" menu (upper left corner of the screen), selecting System Preferences, then click on Energy Saver. Once that opens, click the box that says "Prevent your Mac from automatically sleeping when the display is off." Also set the "Turn display off after" slider setting to "never." All other options are left unchecked under Energy Saver. 

 

You should still be able to set your screensaver settings however you'd like. Mine is set to come on after 20 minutes of inactivity. The settings for that are also found in System Preferences under Desktop & Screen Saver. 

 

The Apple Silicon computers are very energy efficient, and use very little power when at idle, so I really don't feel bad about leaving Sleep Mode off. If I'm not going to be using it for a long period of time, I just shut it down. It boots up incredibly fast, so it's not really a big hassle IMO.  

 

 

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Thank you for checking it out, Steve!

 

I have been pretty busy lately, but I tried to find a bit of time for some recording experiments tonight. I downloaded a Pro Tools orchestral template that KierONeil uploaded about seven years ago to the DUC with Swan Lake Act 1 loaded into it. Anyway, I figured it would be useful for testing. It has 23 MIDI/instrument tracks with Xpand2 inserted on each one, and twenty stereo subgroup busses. At some point I'll try replacing the Xpand 2 instruments with Miroslav Philharmonic 2 instruments to check on how it does with larger sample-based sounds streaming. Anyway, once I got that session all configured, I started recording 24 audio tracks at a time into the session, each with a Brainworx Console N channel strip and a DVerb plugin inserted on it. I'm using an Avid Carbon, so the plugins on the record-enabled tracks are using the Carbon's DSP, but everything automatically switches over to Native processing once I take the tracks out of record. I got up to 96 audio tracks before I decided to call it a night. I'm currently sitting at around 30% in the Pro Tools System Usage meter, with the Mac Studio's 8 individual CPU performance cores each sitting at anywhere from 16% to 21% on the same meter's graph.

 

So far, I have been able to record 24 additional tracks into a 72 audio track  session (96 audio tracks total) while it was also running ~24 MIDI tracks, each with a VI running on it, and routed through about 22 busses. All 96 audio and 24 MIDI tracks play back fine. Zero glitches and the system still feels blazingly fast and responsive. 

 

Oh, did I mention I have never touched the recording buffer size? I haven't needed to yet. It's still set to 32 samples... and the system is still running cool (~37 Celsius) and the fans haven't ramped up at all. 

 

Now I don't know about your work flow folks, but for me it's not very often that I need to add a 24 track overdub to a 72 audio track / 24 MIDI-VI track session. The fact this computer can easily do so with the DAW set to its smallest buffer setting, while running a channel strip and a reverb plugin on each audio channel, and while staying cool and quiet is pretty impressive. And it still has plenty of processing power to spare...

 

I think I'm beginning to like this computer. :thu: 

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Steve, if you are looking for something and don't need a bunch of PCIe slots, the Mac Studio may be worth considering. What would you be using it for? 

 

Speaking of PCIe, my guess is that Apple is using something in the PCIe Gen 4 class for the internal drives, and for the larger size options (4TB / 8TB, where both slots on the Mac Studio's motherboard are populated), they're probably running them in a RAID configuration. 

 

The inclusion of those Thunderbolt 4 ports on the Mac Studios is significant for people who need really fast drive performance. Thunderbolt 4 is twice as fast as Thunderbolt 3, so you can conceivably get drives with top speeds upwards of 8,000 MB/s. Of course, you'd have to use an external Thunderbolt 4 enclosure to host it, and nothing I know of in an external enclosure is hitting that speed quite yet. Still, some of the latest PCIe Gen 4 NVMe options are amazingly fast. For example, the Samsung 980 Pro is apparently capable of read speeds of 7,000 MB/s.

 

But that speed will come at a cost; not only in terms of price tag for the SSD, but also in terms of heat. The faster they're running, the hotter they generally get, and an external Thunderbolt 4 NVMe enclosure is almost certain to have a fan and need its own power supply. Being the latest and greatest, it's also bound to cost more for the enclosure, too. If you have the luxury of a separate machine room or iso-cabinet, you don't have to worry about fan noise, but for many, a quiet recording system is a big plus. And again, not everyone's workflow and needs are the same. For video editors working with multiple streams of 4K video, I'm sure the speed would be useful, but for my purposes, it's not really necessary. I do have an OWC Envoy Express Thunderbolt 3 enclosure and a 2TB Crucial P5 NVMe incoming that claims speeds closer to 1,500 MB/s vs the ~945 MB/s or so I'm getting with USB-C 3.1 Gen 2 NVMe enclosures. It will still be much slower than the Mac Studio's internal drive or a Thunderbolt 4 external, and it won't even allow that Crucial P5 (a fast PCIe Gen 3 NVMe) to perform at its full speed (~3,200 MB/s read, IIRC), but it has a couple of big advantages. First, it's bus-powered, so it will be easy to take it with me if I do get an M1 or M2 powered laptop in the future. And it doesn't have a fan, so it's dead silent. From what I've seen so far, anything faster really isn't necessary for the type of recording I do and the amount of virtual instruments I use, so it doesn't make sense to pay for faster Gen 4 NVMe SSDs. YMMV on that, and if it does, you're probably already aware of it. 

 

The Crucial P5 has a reputation for running a bit hot, but my theory is that with it speed-limited by the enclosure/controller to a bit less than half of its potential top speed, it should run cooler in the Envoy Express case. I should know later tonight. Since there's no benefit from using a faster NVMe in that enclosure, going with a good deal ($180) for a fast 2TB Gen 3 NVMe makes more sense than paying top dollar for PCIe Gen 4 SSD speed the enclosure won't be able to utilize. I also like the Crucial's 1,200 TBW spec too - even with a lot of use, it should be a long-lasting drive.

 

Even going from 945 MB/s to a theoretical ~1,500 MB/s costs more than it may be worth for many users. USB 3.1 Gen 2 enclosures with a decent NVMe inside deliver speeds several times faster than a typical 7,200 RPM HDD and twice as fast as a SATA SSD and cost about $20-$30 for the enclosure, depending on the brand.

 

https://www.amazon.com/Inateck-NVMe-Enclosure-SATA-FE2025/dp/B08WL3LQTC

 

https://www.amazon.com/Enclosure-Aluminum-Dissipation-Enhancement-Installation/dp/B08MVV3NJ6/

 

https://www.amazon.com/Sabrent-Type-C-Tool-Free-Enclosure-EC-SNVE/dp/B08RVC6F9Y

 

The OWC Envoy Express, which is the least expensive Thunderbolt 3 NVMe enclosure I am aware of, costs $79. So if you don't need the extra speed, the USB 3.1 Gen 2 external enclosures may be a better option for you.

 

Today there's a lot of choice when it comes to storage, so make sure you do your research, know your needs, and decide accordingly.

 

Oh yeah, and make sure you have multiple backups of everything. Phil's rule of thumb on digital data: If it doesn't exist in at least three places, then it doesn't exist. I'm currently using Seagate 5TB USB 3 external HDDs for backups since their ~120 MB/s speed is less of a concern in that application, they hold a lot of data, and they are relatively inexpensive. Plus, I think that HDDs may be more reliable as a longer-term backup medium than SSDs. If anyone has any data on that one way or the other, I'd appreciate it if you share it with everyone. 

 

 

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Hi Phil,

 

As briefly mentioned before, I am looking to upgrade my computer arsenal, which I do every 4-5 years or so. As a 45 year IT professional, I am keenly aware of MTBF (mean time before failure) and to mitigate this, look for the most vulnerable and weakest link in the chain--mechanical.

 

I am at this point now for my trusty iMac. I did mitigate one potential weak link by replacing the spinning 1TB hard disk  with a 1TB SSD a year or so ago--what a huge improvement! Also, for completeness, I upgraded the default RAM from the original RAM to the max 32GB.

 

This is the rig I need to replace, which is why I am following this tread with keen interest. 

 

Basically, I am looking for my next 5 year cycle platform to support my needs:

1. heavy programming (Docker-based) - RAM and CPU heavy at times

2. DAW - Cubase and Logic Pro

3. Video production - Final Cut Pro

4. Photoshop Subscription Suite

5. (it seems) 100 Safari and Chrome tabs open at a time.. ;)

6. support multiple cutting edge video monitors

7. etc,

 

I am a heavy Apple ecosystem user, as I heavily and regularly use multiple Apple devices for my professional and personal use.

Therefore I push a lot of content into the cloud.

 

I am also a firm believer in the built-in Time Machine function, which I constantly use for both my iMac and my (aging) MacBook Pro.

 

--> As I have learned from long experience, one can never have too many good data backup sources and locations (tested under fire, of course..) .... <-

 

I need to have all of my production apps ready for the new apple technology; however, if I find a vendor that is lagging too far behind I will quickly replace that vendor with a more responsive one. I have allegiance to no one.

 

Make sense??

 

Thanks again Phil for your knowledge sharing!

-steve

 

 

 

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Steve Force,

Durham, North Carolina

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My Professional Websites

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Your buffer setting at 32 to me is most telling. I'm not sure how different PT is to DP, but that low buffer (even at 64) is the one I'm after when I'm arranging/producing. How much virtual instruments it can play at that setting is what I'd like to know. Even at 128gb of ram, my aging iMac Pro can't handle the VIs I need at that low buffer. And as painful as that price tag is to max the internal SSD of the Macstudio, at least one doesn't have to deal with weird issues with external drives (like, one of my nvme ssds prevents my mac from shutting down...which is something I've never even heard of until it popped up one day and I start googling the apple support forums and there it was, for some). 

 

Anyway, I understand its probably not something you're into as much, but I'd like to know how it can handle a whole bunch of these new synths that came out, like all the new Korgs (collection & opsix/wavestate) that I just treated myself to, plus the usual Kontakt libraries and Spectrasonic stuff. 

Regardless, thanks for the thread and looking forward for more posts.

Raul
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3 hours ago, Sergievsky said:

Your buffer setting at 32 to me is most telling. I'm not sure how different PT is to DP, but that low buffer (even at 64) is the one I'm after when I'm arranging/producing. How much virtual instruments it can play at that setting is what I'd like to know. Even at 128gb of ram, my aging iMac Pro can't handle the VIs I need at that low buffer. And as painful as that price tag is to max the internal SSD of the Macstudio, at least one doesn't have to deal with weird issues with external drives (like, one of my nvme ssds prevents my mac from shutting down...which is something I've never even heard of until it popped up one day and I start googling the apple support forums and there it was, for some). 

 

Anyway, I understand its probably not something you're into as much, but I'd like to know how it can handle a whole bunch of these new synths that came out, like all the new Korgs (collection & opsix/wavestate) that I just treated myself to, plus the usual Kontakt libraries and Spectrasonic stuff. 

Regardless, thanks for the thread and looking forward for more posts.

 

If you are refering to my 32 number, I mistyped MB for GB, and have corrected it.  I upgraded the RAM to the max allowed on that iMac. For my next machine I will go 64GB.

 

BTW: I use UAD Apollo external for most plugins.https://www.uaudio.com/audio-interfaces.html

 

Steve Force,

Durham, North Carolina

--------

My Professional Websites

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1 hour ago, Steve Force said:

 

If you are refering to my 32 number, I mistyped MB for GB, and have corrected it.  I upgraded the RAM to the max allowed on that iMac. For my next machine I will go 64GB.

 

BTW: I use UAD Apollo external for most plugins.https://www.uaudio.com/audio-interfaces.html

 

Sorry I was referring to Phil's buffer size in ProTools. In Digital Performer, I cannot play any piano/synth at a buffer larger than 128 (whatever the unit is for buffer sizes). The latency is too much. 64 is good, 32 better. The RAM helps when loading sample libraries in Kontakt and stuff like that. I thought 128GB was overkill when I got it for my iMac...but found out I use most of it, with my DAW & all those virtual instruments open along with Sibelius, browser windows, email, Office, Transcribe!, etc. 64GB is definitely the minimum for a main computer. I just wished Apple came out with a 128GB laptop...but maybe a little tiny portable led monitor + macstudio is portable enough to take to a major show or something.

Raul
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Been sick the last few days, so I'm sorry I haven't updated this. Still shredded, so this will be quick...

 

I installed the latest version of Pro Tools Ultimate (2022.4) and with the little I've done it seems to be as stable as 2021.12 was. As another test, I loaded up the demo song for it ("Low Roar"), and it ran with about 40% total CPU use (per the PT meter). It's about a 50 track song, with a dozen virtual instruments and lots of other plugins. The session ran fine with the 32 sample buffer, so I duplicated every track (including source tracks, all plugins, VIs, etc.) and ran it some more. Still no problem. I duplicated the original tracks a third time (~150 tracks, 36 virtual instruments, etc.) and that one finally threw a DAE error at me near the 4:30 mark on the song's timeline. Setting the buffer higher actually seemed to make things worse on the CPU meters, but turning off the optimization for low buffer sizes in the playback engine settings allowed everything to play fine with no errors, even with the 32 sample buffer setting. 64 and 128 sample buffer settings worked fine, too. 1024 did not. Which strikes me as rather strange/interesting...  

 

 

 

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As far as virtual instruments go, I have a relatively limited amount - Miroslav Philharmonik 2, the latest release of the Arturia V Collection, the AIR virtual instruments, EZ Drummer, some Kontakt libraries, and a few others. The ones used in the Pro Tools demo song are all the AIR VIs that come with Pro Tools - Boom, Xpand 2, Mini Grand, etc. None of those put the kind of heavy streaming demand on a drive the way that some of the large sample libraries do (Miroslav, Spitfire, etc.) but they do impact the CPU. I do plan on loading up some of my more demanding VIs and seeing how well they do when I focus on using a lot of those at once. Stay tuned. 

 

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Also, don't forget that everything in Pro Tools land is still operating under Rosetta 2, so there's that overhead taxing the system, too. I suspect an M1 native version of Pro Tools would perform noticeably better. My understanding is that Logic, Studio One, Reaper, and probably some other DAWs are already M1 native, so if you use one of those apps, your performance may differ from what I am seeing with Pro Tools and a Carbon interface. 

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  • 3 weeks later...

And I'm back. Sorry for my prolonged absence - I really had a bad case of the flu that put me under for nearly three weeks. Doing much better now...

 

Anyway, I want to cover a couple more drive-related things before moving on to other aspects of the M1 Max Mac Studio. I purchased two OWC Envoy Express Thunderbolt 3 enclosures and put a 2TB Crucial P5 NVMe SSD into each one of them. I have one Envoy Express connected directly to one of the Thunderbolt ports on the Mac Studio. Here's a screenshot of its speed, as tested with Blackmagic Design's Disk Speed Test app: 

 

877074781_EnvoyExpressThunderbolt3solo.thumb.png.ab949d0073f4cd1b50c74e8bdddb68bc.png

 

At about 1,380 MB/s, it's nowhere near the speed of the Mac Studio's internal drive, but it's definitely faster than the ~945 MB/s I get with my USB 3.1 Gen 2 NVMe SSDs.

 

The second Envoy Express is the second (last) device on a Thunderbolt chain; it's connected the second Thunderbolt port on my Universal Audio UAD-2 Satellite Thunderbolt 3 Octo. Here's the speed test results for that drive: 

 

590113531_EnvoyExpressThunderbolt3afterUAOcto.thumb.png.9bd630821305e775c24049184ef265cb.png

 

For comparison, that's about the same speed as a USB 3.1 Gen 2 NVMe SSDs (see my earlier post for the screen shot of that). Again, these are identical, speedy NVMe SSDs in identical Thunderbolt 3 enclosures. I ended up paying a LOT more for the OWC Envoy Express ($79)  than I did for the USB 3.1 Gen 2 case (~$20), so if you don't need the extra speed, and especially if you are going to daisy chain it off of another Thunderbolt device, you may want to save yourself $60 and just get a USB 3.1 Gen 2 case for your external NVMe SSD.  

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If you really need a super-fast external drive, then consider opting for an external Thunderbolt 4 enclosure and a PCIe Gen 4 NVMe. The Crucial P5's (and WD Blue SN550) are PCIe Gen 3 x4, which is plenty fast for what I'm using them for, which is primarily audio. If you're planning on using the Mac Studio to regularly edit 4K or 8K video, you might be able to justify the extra cost of the newer PCIe Gen 4 NVMe SSDs and Thunderbolt 4 external enclosures, but for audio recording and virtual instrument sample libraries, that's going to be overkill for most people, and a heck of a lot more expensive. 

 

 

 

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Let's talk about software compatibility for a minute. As of today, most DAW programs are Apple Silicon native. Pro Tools Expert has a really handy chart on their site that shows what is, and what isn't Apple Silicon native.

 

https://www.pro-tools-expert.com/production-expert-1/apple-silicon-the-ultimate-pro-audio-guide-2022

 

The one major holdout to that is Avid's Pro Tools, which is M1 compatible via Rosetta 2, but still doesn't offer an M1 native version. While I have other programs, Pro Tools is my main DAW. I've been using it for over twenty years now. As much as I like the program, and am very familiar with it, I may have to rethink that... 

 

It's been a year and a half since Apple launched the first M1 computers, and a lot of people were pretty disappointed with Avid's latest announcement and version release since not only did they discontinue sales of perpetual licenses (with several confusing caveats...), but they didn't provide M1 native compatibility with the latest Pro Tools release, either. Why does that matter? Well, from what I'm seeing in various tests online, it appears that there's about a 20% CPU hit (on average) for apps running under Rosetta 2 vs native. Applications that are fine-tuned for Apple Silicon are showing significant performance increases compared to x86 versions running under Rosetta. While the Apple M1 CPUs are so fast that many people won't notice, it does make a difference insofar as the maximum performance the computer can deliver. For power users (and most people who are considering a Mac Studio are, if not power users, then at least headed in that direction), that means the Mac Studio won't perform as well as it's capable of - you'll get better performance if your DAW has been optimized for Apple Silicon. 

 

But it's not just the DAW that you need to be concerned with. Your plugins will also need to be optimized for Apple Silicon. If there's one incompatible / non-Apple Silicon plugin that you absolutely need to run, you will need to run the DAW, and all of your plugins, under Rosetta 2, or it won't work. Fortunately, Pro Tools Expert also has a list of most of the major plugin companies, and whether or not they're Apple Silicon native.

 

https://www.pro-tools-expert.com/apple-silicon-audio-compatibility-guide

 

One of my must-have plugins is Antares Autotune Pro. Unfortunately, it's currently not compatible with macOS Monterey, even using Rosetta 2. While I also have Melodyne Assistant, and it does run under Monterey, the lack of a working version of Autotune is a real bummer and is hindering me from completing a few projects. The moral here is to make sure everything you need is available and compatible before you jump into a new system, and/or be ready to deal with some delays while everyone gets their programs optimized for the new OS and new hardware. 

 

Personally, I'd recommend not upgrading anything in mid-job. Finish whatever you're working on, keep your old computer system in service (if possible), and only upgrade your hardware when you have plenty of time to get everything settled and optimized. While things are definitely getting better on the compatibility front, don't make any assumptions. Check into things and make sure the programs and plugins you need to run are compatible and ready to go, or be willing to wait for an indeterminate length of time for everyone to get their $#!t together. 

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^^^ Thanks for this post and the links. I will be reviewing them.

I have too many plugins and this may help in getting rid of some of them.

For the most part, I track without plugins if possible - mostly it is possible. 

Tracking is where low latency shines brightly, for mixing I can just ramp up a long latency and mix without every noticing it. 

 

I'm also considering changing DAWs and I probably need need to flip my Steinberg UR22 Mk II to a happy Windows user that can keep it running for years. 

I'll be testing further this evening but the Steinberg no longer records from my current DAW, although it will play back. 

I'll double-check - confirm by firing up Garage Band and seeing what happens then. That hopefully will provide information I can use to pinpoint the problem. 

 

The only thing that never changes is that everything always changes!!!!

 

It took a chunk of my life to get here and I am still not sure where "here" is.
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