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Cover image for Should I get an M3 iMac, an M1 iMac, an M2 Mac Mini, or something else?
Michael Tharrington
Michael Tharrington

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Should I get an M3 iMac, an M1 iMac, an M2 Mac Mini, or something else?

It's time for me to get a new desktop and I could use a hand choosing the right one! I recently got a beautiful blue 5th generation iPad Air and I love it. Apple has been calling my name ever since, so that's the direction I'm currently headed.

My plan for whatever Mac I purchase is to primarily use it for music production. My DAW of choice is Ableton Live and I'm hoping to upgrade to version 12 soon. I also have a Behringer XR18 mixer and aim to use it as an audio interface with my new computer. I'm not really sure how much of a VST guy I am... I've yet to use many, but I hear that these can be somewhat heavy on your resources. In any case, I'd like to have the option to use some VSTs when the time comes. I'd also like to be able to smoothly send MIDI signals from my computer so that I can send sequences to my synths, trigger loops or samples, and sync all the clocks across my different devices.

The iMac is alluring to me because it's an all-in-one machine with a really cool design aesthetic. While the M3 is super tempting (my FOMO alarm 🚨 is sounding off), I'm actually leaning toward the M1 because I think it should be powerful enough to do all I need, it'll save me a good bit of money, and the design is essentially identical.

Meanwhile, I could get more bang for my buck from a Mac Mini β€” it has more reasonable ports and better specs than the the iMac β€” but I'd need to get a good display; I already have an extra keyboard and mouse, though I'm not in love with them. And, while the Mac Mini is nice and compact, the design just isn't as exciting to me. I'm also not so sure that I need the extra horsepower. I'm not doing video editing... yet.

Any suggestions or things to keep in mind as I make this decision? Thoughts on RAM? I'm curious if 8GB will do me or if I should go for 16GB... Anybody own one of these machines and wanna share their experience? Have y'all seen any good Black Friday deals that I should be aware of? Thoughts on buying a computer second-hand? Any PC fans wanna try to knock some sense into me? πŸ€œπŸ˜…

Appreciate y'all's help!

Top comments (12)

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ben profile image
Ben Halpern

If aesthetics aren't a huge deal, I'd go with M2 Mac Mini β€” which lets you swap or upgrade your display later and has more bang for the buck.

But the iMacs are beautiful, and if it's going to be awesome to work on that machine, I'd go M3 iMac.

Either way, check out the refurbished section in your shopping process if there aren't big black Friday sales that overpower those.

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michaeltharrington profile image
Michael Tharrington

Right on! Great point about being able to swap out the display. That is a bonus!

Also, good tip on the refurbished section... I would absolutely consider a refurbished device.

I also found an option for an M1 Mac earlier today on Craigslist that seems like a pretty sweet deal! I've sent a few questions to the owner to get some more info.

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ben profile image
Ben Halpern

Yeah if you can get a good deal on a used one, definitely worth looking at β€” my only concern is that 8gb RAM config might be too low for some programs.

I'm actually not sure what the limiting factors usually are for music software, but RAM is often the thing you don't want to go lowest configuration on.

I'd read up on your RAM needs as part of the process.

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michaeltharrington profile image
Michael Tharrington

Right on β€” good to know, Ben!

The bit of research I've done thus far has informed me that the new Mac chips have integrated memory and so perform pretty well but RAM can't be upgraded... I'm already somewhat familiar that Mac computers are a pain to upgrade, but this sounds particularly painful. Your advice (and Joe's elsewhere in thread) is convincing me that I should be cautious in this regard.

I'll totally be reading up on common RAM requirements for music-making.

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theaccordance profile image
Joe Mainwaring • Edited

I do appreciate the aesthetic of the iMacs but I traditionally gravitate towards the Mac Minis for two primary reasons:

  • I typically want a larger/higher quality monitor than what's packaged in the current iMac Models and I prefer dual, matching monitors for my desktop setup.
  • Historically the Mac Minis have had more hardware customization and an easier time making those changes

Regarding the RAM choice - I would verify if the RAM can be upgraded or not on the device you're picking. If it can, then you can go with a lower amount of ram initially and upgrade later; if it cannot then you want to make your up-front investment to maximize the longevity of the device. Regardless of which Mac I pick today, I tend to set a baseline of at least 16GB Ram and 500GB Hard Drive in anticipation of my future needs.

Also worth mentioning - if you have an Apple Credit Card, that 0% APR financing makes it a lot easier to afford the hardware upgrades when ordering.

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michaeltharrington profile image
Michael Tharrington

Great practical advice, Joe!

Upgradability is definitely a plus and leaving myself a bit of room to spare in both the RAM and hard drive departments also def makes sense.

I can't promise that I'll make the practical decision though... those M1s just look so dang pretty, haha.

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OpenSourcee

I'm not buying a desktop right now, so I wouldn't know the specifics, but I often have the same question: go for the best now or the good enough? The thing is that it is really expensive, but, usually, when I can, I try to go to the best now, because it soon gets outdated, and they are meant to last. But again... it's expensive. So it depends!

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michaeltharrington profile image
Michael Tharrington

I totally hear ya on that! The tech world does move so fast... buying a device that is already 2 years into its life (e.g. the iMac M1) feels like it could be a bit of a risk.

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Monty Harper

Get as much ram as you can, but these days I think any iMac can run a DAW with no trouble; my mac is pretty old and still does great with the recording software. So relax in the knowledge that you can't really go wrong there. Screen real estate may actually be the thing that will make the most practical difference in your day-to-day, especially if you're working with dozens of tracks and effects. I know plenty of people who just hook up a second monitor to expand their workspace. My imac has a 27" screen and that's generally plenty for my purposes.

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michaeltharrington profile image
Michael Tharrington

Really appreciate the chime in, Monty! Nice to hear from a musician that the DAW should run smoothly whatever way I end up going.

And good point about the monitor space. My desk space is kinda limited right now so not sure I have room for more than one right now.. still, it would be nice to future-proof myself if I decide that a multi-monitor setup is what I need!

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Bala Madhusoodhanan

the Mac mini is easily the more compact and portable. Also extensive life compared to iMac.
If you want a bit of extra computing power, you could always try the Mac Studio, which is basically a Mac mini on steroids.

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michaeltharrington profile image
Michael Tharrington

Right on, Bala! Good advice.

I think the Mac Studio is awesome but just a bit out of my price range... it's probably a little overkill for my needs too.