You don’t need access to a recording studio or a radio station to start a podcast. You just need the right gear. For most podcasters, a good laptop for recording and editing is the most fundamental piece of equipment — the centerpiece of the setup. You probably already have one. But if your trusty computer has seen better days, you may want to invest in a faster, more powerful piece of equipment. Here's what the best computers for audio production usually have in common.
The best computer for podcasting
What to look for in a podcasting computer
- Processing power. When you run audio and video editing applications on a laptop computer, you lean heavily on the machine’s processing power. A computer’s central processing unit (CPU) handles the complex computational tasks that enable edits like crossfading audio or adding reverb to a recorded track. Look for a model with an up-to-date processor, which will likely remain functional for many years to come. For Apple computers, look for a model with an in-house processor like the M1 processor, which is common across many new models. For Windows machines, look for a processor made by industry leader Intel. A recent version of an Intel i5 or i7 chip should provide ample power for podcast software. (If your podcast workstation doubles as a video editing machine, you probably need an i7 or i9 chip with more overall processing power.)
- Memory. A computer’s memory is described as RAM (random access memory). The more RAM your computer has, the faster it responds to commands. Most podcast editing software runs smoothly on a machine with at least 8GB of RAM. But if your budget allows for it, aim for 16GB or more.
- Software compatibility. A podcast computer’s software compatibility depends on its operating system. Most digital audio workstations, or DAWs — the audio editing software you’ll be using to make your podcast — run on both MacOS and Windows operating systems. Some even run on mobile operating systems like iOS, iPadOS, and Android. But not all programs run on all operating systems. To use GarageBand or Logic Pro, you need an Apple machine running MacOS (or in some cases iOS or iPadOS). Other programs only run on Windows. Research your software’s operating system compatibility, minimum RAM, and processing power requirements before committing to a particular computer for audio editing.
- Screen size. Podcasting is an audio medium, but the best computers for podcasting offer ample screen real estate. A large screen helps you see all your editing windows without having to toggle back and forth between them. If you’re getting a laptop, aim for one that’s at least 13 inches (computer screens are measured by the distance from one corner of the screen to the diagonally opposite corner). If you can afford a laptop with a 15-inch or 16-inch screen, even better.
- Battery life. If you plan to use a laptop for field recording, you need reliable battery life. Recording in a far-flung location with no power outlets means all the computing power comes from your laptop’s battery. To ensure optimal battery life, check the computer’s spec sheet, which tells you its estimated battery capacity. You can extend battery life by shutting down unnecessary applications and dimming your screen.
Laptop vs. Desktop: Which to choose
You can record and edit podcasts on both laptop and desktop computers. Choosing between them involves a mix of how you plan to use them, your budget, and personal preference.
Pros and cons of using a laptop for podcasting
The best laptops for podcasting have a lot of power under the hood while also being compact and easy to carry. We asked seven podcasters what they used to edit their work, and all seven said they used laptops instead of desktops. Here are three advantages of using a laptop for podcasting:
- Portability. A laptop computer can be your on-the-go recording studio. Bring it along for field recording, and enjoy all the same functionality you’d get in your home or office environment. You can turn just about any location, from a theater to a hotel room, into a sound editing workspace.
- Impressive processing power. In decades past, audio and video editors needed desktop computers to handle processor-intensive tasks like editing audio. But thanks to massive advances in CPU technology, a modern laptop processor can handle these hefty recording and editing tasks. This lets audio editors forego a desktop altogether and do all their work on a laptop.
- Low power usage. Most laptop computers use less overall power than desktop computers (which usually require a separate monitor that also needs power). While laptops aren’t quite as energy-efficient as most smartphones and tablets, they offer considerably more processing power.
Still, there are a few reasons why some podcasters may not want a laptop as their podcast workstation. Here are three disadvantages of using a laptop for podcasting:
- Price. Laptops are typically more expensive than desktop computers with equivalent processing power.
- Lack of customizability. It’s much harder to customize a laptop than a desktop. If you’re a custom computer enthusiast, you’ll likely prefer the modular nature of many Windows desktop PCs. Laptops tend to come sealed shut with many parts permanently soldered or glued together, meaning you can’t take them apart to swap in new parts.
- Limited uses. Some podcasters want their podcasting computer to double as a video editing machine. This is where processing power may throw up a roadblock. Video editing — particularly 4K or 8K video editing — requires considerably more processing power than audio editing. For many users, the best computer for video editing and multimedia is a desktop, which can accommodate a more powerful CPU.
Pros and cons of using a desktop for podcasting
When a podcaster opts for a desktop computer, they usually want a powerful but affordable machine they can modify. Here are three advantages of using a desktop for podcasting:
- Affordability. In most cases, a desktop computer costs less than a laptop with equivalent features and processing power.
- Versatility. If you’re looking for a machine that can handle both audio and video editing at once, look no further.
- Customizability. If you like to piece together PCs from modular components, you’ll want to go the desktop route. Laptop computers aren’t built for interchangeable parts.
Here are three disadvantages of using a desktop for podcasting:
- Not portable. You can’t bring a desktop computer to record and edit in far-flung places.
- Fewer integrated parts. When you buy a desktop computer, you might only be buying the main processor machine. A monitor, webcam, keyboard, and graphics card may all be sold separately, which, for some podcasters, can be a headache.
- Overkill for most audio editing apps. While video editing apps require the processing power a desktop provides, audio editing is a different story. Generally, you don’t need a supercharged desktop to cut audio tracks and add effects like reverb and EQ. The major audio editing programs, from Pro Tools to Descript, run smoothly on laptop computers.
The 5 best computers for podcasting
If you’re in the market for a podcasting computer, be sure to look into the following five models, four of which are laptops and one of which is a tablet:
- Apple MacBook Air.The MacBook Air is Apple’s entry-level laptop. If you’re using your laptop to record and edit podcasts, a MacBook Air has all the processing power you need. The newest model features Apple’s M1 processor (the M2 processor is announced for future releases), which offers tremendous computing power and battery life — 18 hours of use on a single battery charge. It also features the brand’s signature Retina display, a high-resolution screen that shows editing windows in expert detail. The MacBook Air is incredibly lightweight, but pricey — a well-equipped 16GB model costs roughly $1800, though they tend to last a long time.
- Apple MacBook Pro. If you’re an Apple enthusiast who also does multitrack music recording or video editing, you may need to upgrade to the more powerful MacBook Pro. This machine runs the same OS as the MacBook Air and it can handle all the same software, but it offers more processing power and a larger screen. Note that you need an Apple device if you want to run the highly popular Logic Pro audio editing software. The MacBook Pro may also be the best computer for Pro Tools. If you thought the MacBook Air was pricey, you might want to sit down for this one: the 16-inch model starts at $2,500.
- HP Spectre x360. As for Windows machines, podcasters should check out the HP Spectre x360. Technically a laptop, it has a touchscreen that folds back to resemble a tablet. The Spectre x360 uses an Intel Core i7-8550U CPU, which offers more than enough power for podcasting. It weighs more than a MacBook Air or a true tablet, but less than a MacBook Pro and many other Windows laptops. Expect to pay around $2,000 for a model with 16GB of RAM.
- ASUS VivoBook F510UA. For a budget pick, consider the ASUS VivoBook F510UA. This machine runs an Intel Core i5 processor (the lowest-powered processor on this list) and has 8GB of RAM (the minimum you can get away with), but it’s still enough for the vast majority of audio-editing apps. While its battery life isn’t impressive (only 4 hours), the price certainly is: $900. ASUS has built a reputation as a reliable Windows-running brand. If you want to go even cheaper, check out the Acer Aspire 5, which has similar specs and costs less than $600.
- Microsoft Surface Pro 8. Our final pick is a tablet computer that functions much like a laptop. Microsoft promotes its Surface brand as a great option for creatives, and this extends to podcasting. Microsoft sells these devices at different price points, and each has its own set of specs. Make sure you choose a model with at least 8GB of RAM and an Intel Evo Platform Core i5 processor, which you can usually get for around $1,180 with a Surface Pro Signature Keyboard. For this price, you get a machine that’s about as powerful as the above-mentioned ASUS or Acer devices, but more portable
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