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BUYING A MAC IS A BIG STEP.
There's so many factors you can consider when it comes time to purchase a Mac (whether for the first time or upgrading).
Let's start by outlining a few of the important tech specs to consider.
Consideration 1: RAM
RAM (which stands for Random Access Memory) is a huge factor in how your Mac will perform as a host for your synth sounds.
Modern Mac computers typically start at 4 GB of RAM on the low end and reach up to 16 GB of RAM or more. The minimum system requirements for MainStage 3 currently call for 4 GB of RAM but in our experience 4 GB of RAM is often not adequate for many users.
Because of this we recommend you go for a Mac with at least 8 GB of RAM (16 GB if you plan to run 3rd party plugins like Omnisphere, Kontakt and/or if you plan to play tracks at the same time as you play whether from within MainStage or alongside via another program like Ableton live.
Consideration 2: Processor
Most (but not quite all) modern Mac computers feature Intel processors- either i5 or i7 processors specifically. Processor capability can be simplified to a couple of basic qualities: the processor speed (measured in GHz) and the number of cores within the processor (ie. a dual core or quad core processor). There are some nuanced differences between i5 and i7 processors but a fair generalization is that an i7 processor with the same speed and number of cores will still give you better performance than an i5 processor with the same specs (all sorts of reasons why, but that's outside the scope of this discussion).
So what's an acceptable processor for regular MainStage use? In our opinion the minimum we'd recommend would be a dual core i5 processor with a speed of at least 2.1 GHz for an average MainStage set up.
If you plan to use more complex layered sounds, use any third party plugins, or perform multiple tasks at once like running tracks and keys sounds then we'd highly recommend you go for something with higher specs. The biggest leap in performance will with the jump from a dual core i5 to a quad core i7 (provided they have similar GHz speeds). The difference between a dual core i5 at 2.1 GHZ versus a dual core i5 at 2.7 GHz will most likely NOT be as noticeable as the speed improvement comparing a quad core i7 at 2.1 GHz to a dual core at 2.1 GHz.
To simplify this as much as possible: a quad core i7 with the highest speed you can afford is a more future and fool-proof decision and leaves room for stretching your creative legs with third party plugins and other applications. A dual core i5 can still be adequate if funds are tight. I (David) ran my MainStage rig on a dual core i5 at 2.1 GHz for almost three years. I will say that when I upgraded to a quad core I couldn't believe how much faster my system was.
(one last note here, there are both dual core and quad core i7 processors available in Macs, so make sure to note which you're buying when making a purchase decision)
Consideration 3: Hard Drive
Starting in 2012, Apple started releasing laptop computers that featured Solid State Drives (SSD) instead of the older Hard Disk Drive (HDD) technology.
You can still find both types of drives in Macs on the market today and both can be totally acceptable in a Mac used for MainStage 3.
A few points worth mentioning here:
Solid state drives are less likely to fail over time.
Solid state drives (generally) have faster read speeds, which can result in better performance when using sample based instruments and especially when using more intense plugins like Omnisphere or Keyscape.
Macs with Hard Disc Drives are ALWAYS going to be less expensive in the used market, for the same amount of storage space.
My (again, David) old MacBook Pro had a hard disk drive and it was adequate for regular MainStage use. I had a hard disk failure after about three years but it was not difficult to replace. When I made the jump to a newer Mac with a Solid State Drive I noticed an increased speed when opening up Applications, when booting the Mac, and when loading new sample based instruments to my computer. In my opinion an SSD is worth the extra cost if it can be afforded, but is not an essential.
(one last note re: the size of drive you'll need. It's really not that difficult to fill up a smaller drive, so go as big as you think you'll need and then maybe just a bit bigger. 512 GB is a good benchmark for the average user. If you do any video editing or download a lot of files you might find yourself having to free up space pretty regularly at 512 GB.)
Consideration 4: Upgradeability
Over the years Apple has made several important changes to the way that they allow you, the end user, to interact with their hardware.
The most important change to be aware of comes down to a year, and a season: Fall of 2012
What happened in Fall of 2012? Fall 2012 marked the moment that Apple stopped building MacBook Pros that were user upgradeable.
Up until that point it was totally possible to purchase a MacBook Pro with 4 GB of RAM and then upgrade it yourself to 16 GB of RAM. Starting in the Fall of 2012 Apple fundamentally restructured the guts of MacBook Pros to make them both more compact (read: super skinny Macs) AND no longer user upgradeable.
Whether or not Apple is an evil corporation for doing so aside (hot take- they're not), the fact remains that all MacBook Pros available on the market from Fall of 2012 until now are "what you see is what you get." If you start with 8 GB RAM and a 512 GB Hard Drive, you'll end with the same.
So what does this little Apple history lesson have to do with buying a Mac to use with MainStage? Well, a lot actually. It has to do with what I (David) call the "Golden Unicorn" of used Macs.
The Golden Unicorn of Macs, simply stated, is any mid 2012 model year MacBook Pro, whether 13", 15", or 17". Why? Because these MacBook Pros have three unique things going for them:
#1. They're not that old. MacBook Pros have an above average life span compared to other laptops. A mid 2012 MacBook Pro is most often a totally usable machine, reliability wise.
#2. They're old enough to be available at LOW prices. Because these machines are older, they've depreciated in value considerably. This is a GOOD thing for the prospective Mac shopper.
#3. THEY'RE USER UPGRADEABLE, YO! This means you can buy an under-spec'd MacBook Pro, then purchase a brand spankin' new SSD and 16GB of RAM to install in it (it's cheap and easy to install new drives and RAM in these older Macs).
So as an example, a mid 2012 13" MacBook Pro, core i5, 2.1 GHz processor with a 512 GB HHD and 4 GB of ram can regularly be found online for around $500. It's possible to purchase 16 GB of RAM online for less than $100. That means you can have a maxed out MacBook Pro, ready for MainStage use for less than $600. That, my friends, is the golden unicorn.
A Note About How Strong Unicorns Are... and Their Lifespan:
I want to make sure I'm not misunderstood here. Going the "Golden Unicorn" route is a totally viable option for those on a tight budget. Just keep in mind that everything has an expiration date and when you buy something 6 years old, it's safe to assume you're at least six years closer to that expiration date than something you buy brand new. You'll have to be the judge of where to invest your money and balance the short term savings versus a potential long term risk. It's also worth noting that if you want to make sure your setup is future proof and that you run into as few limitations as possible (like desiring to use third party plugins, run extensive tracks, edit video, etc) then it's really worth considering whether purchasing a newer machine might be worth the investment.
Consideration 5: MacBook Air, MacBook Pro, Mac Mini?
This is a question we get asked pretty regularly: "Can I run MainStage on my MacBook Air, MacBook Pro, Mac Mini?"
The answer is: it depends. It depends on all of the factors we've discussed above. How much RAM? What's the processor speed? The differences between Airs, regular MacBooks, and MacBook Pros fall into two categories: aesthetic (or feature-focused like the TouchBar on new MacBook Pros) and functional. The functional differences between the different types are centered around the actual capabilities. Because of this, the recommendations we make above apply, no matter the form or model. Does it have at least 8 GB RAM and a dual core, 2.1 GHz processor? If the answer is yes then we'd be comfortable saying you could use it for an average MainStage setup.
Don't expect to run Omnisphere on a MacBook Air. It's important to be realistic. There are also the used options we've discussed already and will discuss again in a moment that make the MacBook Pro a more affordable option.
To sum up- if you already own a MacBook Air, MacBook, or Mini then you might be fine. Check the specs against what we've recommended above.
If you're in the market and haven't bought yet, we recommend going for a MacBook Pro, whether new or used.
(Mac Mini is a whole 'nother category here. The less than mobile nature of a Mac Mini setup and the fact that Mac Minis have varied widely in their specifications over the years makes them harder to speak authoritatively on. If you don't need to move your setup and you find a model with good specs, then you might consider going for it! Personally, we like the portability of a laptop but to each their own.)
WHERE TO BUY A MAC:
There's a common misconception that you need to spend $2000 + to get a Mac capable of running MainStage 3. "What Mac should I buy to run MainStage 3" is a question we get here at Sunday Sounds almost every day.
The good news is that you don't need to drop $2k to get good results from MainStage. (although you might want to. More on that in a moment)
So where should you buy? Here's the three options we're really confident recommending to folks on the hunt:
This option is obvious. You can buy a shiny, brand new Mac from Apple any day, anytime and it will work great.
REASONS TO BUY DIRECTLY FROM APPLE:
- Long-term life of the computer (generally the highest of any option, especially if you opt to purchase Apple Care)
- Most future proof specs
- Brand new battery (this ties into long-term life of the computer but is also worth mentioning separately)
FROM THE APPLE REFURBISHED STORE:
This is a great option for those who want a relatively new Mac and are willing to pay a bit more for that, who also want to be as prudent as possible.
REASONS TO BUY FROM THE APPLE CERTIFIED REFURBISHED STORE:
- These Macs are returns from stores or customers that Apple has inspected and returned to their new, out of the box level of performance.
- They carry a warranty from Apple
- They're usually 15-25% less than a brand new Mac
FROM MAC OF ALL TRADES:
Mac of All Trades are a third party reseller of refurbished Macs that has a great reputation for quality and reliability. Because they're a third party reseller there is no Apple warranty, but they do offer a warranty of their own on many models they sell. Mac of All Trades is also the best option for you if you're on a tight budget, because they sell older model years that are more than capable of running MainStage and feature a lower price point.
REASONS TO BUY FROM MAC OF ALL TRADES:
- Lowest price points for high quality, refurbished used Macs
- Much wider selection of older model years that are still capable of running MainStage with ease
- Many models come with a warranty from Mac of All Trades themselves
- Only option of these three that regularly has pre-fall of 2012 MacBook Pros.
Alright, so we've just shared a lot of information with you but don't be overwhelmed.
Things to consider:
Consideration 1: RAM - More RAM= more power, faster speeds, and more multi-tasking. We recommend at least 8 GB RAM.
Consideration 2: Processor - Macs generally have Intel i5 or i7 processors. Factors to consider are the number of cores (dual core or quad core) and the processor speed (measured in GHz). For non-intense MainStage use look for at least a dual core 2.1 GHz i5. For more intense use (third party plugins, tracks, videos, multi-tasking) then spring for a quad core i7 (and make sure the processor speed is higher as well).
Consideration 3: Hard Drive - Two kinds of drives: Hard Disk Drives (older, slower, and more failure prone in the long run) and Solid State Drives (newer, faster, and less failure prone). Both types of drives are generally acceptable for regular MainStage use. For more intense set ups a SSD can provide a big boost in speed and performance.
Consideration 4: Upgradeability - Consider Fall of 2012, when Macs became non-upgradeable. Value and budget conscious Mac shoppers can find some great deals looking at mid 2012 MacBook Pros. It's worth considering the lifetime value of a used purchase vs. something newer.
Where to Buy:
From Apple- Click here to go to the Apple Mac store:
From the Apple Certified Refurb Store- Click here to go to the Apple Certified Refurbished Store:
From Mac of All Trades- Click here to go to MacOfAllTrades.com: