Apple’s recent decision to migrate away from the traditional x86 style Intel processers which have powered their laptop and desktop computers for over 15 years, in favour of their own custom ARM64 style processors (similar to those used in iPhone and iPad) is big news. This new M1 processor opens the door to a new breed of personal computers offering a tantalizing combination of power, efficiency, and even affordability.
This is all meaningless without the support of software to run on these devices and at launch, very few ‘pro’ applications outside of Apple’s own software suite were capable of taking full advantage of the new processor architecture. This being the case, Apple’s core customer base of creative professionals, enthusiasts and educational facilities have responded with a reasonable level of caution and reservation.
In a very promising move, German music industry titans Ableton have announced the soon to be released version 11.1 of their popular DAW software ‘Live’ will feature native support for Apple’s M1 processor. Given its incredibly widespread use throughout so much of the music industry, we may soon witness a surge in popularity for Apple’s new generation of ARM64 machines within their core customer base.
From performing musicians to schools labs, the Apple Mac has long been the preferred platform for creative and educational applications. However, this trend has shown recent signs of decline with high prices, controversial design choices and a lack of upgrade/repairability all being contributing factors.
Long time aficionados are also wary of Apple’s shift in focus towards mass-consumer mobile devices, but it’s not all bad news. Their work in that field has nurtured the development of new technologies very relevant to other product lines, namely the new M1 ARM processor. As we’ve witnessed with the mobile devices from which its architecture is derived, Apple’s custom ARM processors can deliver incredible performance, with unprecedented power efficiency leading to better battery life and less cooling required, giving way to smaller, lighter, quieter and more reliable devices. Also, being designed in-house by Apple no doubt contributes to its relatively low price point.
Being the first generation of what is essentially a new category of personal computer (or at least the most promising example we’ve seen so far) it is very much early days for the Apple M1, but performance tests have been highly encouraging. When running optimized software, even the most compact and affordable of M1 equipped Macs have been able to give far more expensive machines (in some instances even Apple’s own Intel-based Mac Pro) a legitimate run for their money.
The operative portion of that statement is of course ‘when running optimized software’. In order for a piece of software to run at all on an M1 Mac, it needs to be either written/re-written specifically for M1 (to run natively), or run alongside Apple’s Rosetta 2 translation software, which, despite being remarkably efficient, is still far from optimal.
As referenced earlier, Ableton have announced that Live version 11.1 is in the final public-beta testing stage, and amongst its many new features is native support for M1 Macs. Upon its release, this could mark a watershed moment for the music production world, especially once we start seeing performance results compared to previous Mac computers.
One of the reasons musicians and producers tend to prefer the Mac platform is its general stability and reliability, and the operating system’s overall refinement compared to the likes of Windows. To many, this more than justifies the typical ‘Apple premium’ when it comes to cost and if these new M1 powered MacBook Pros can offer a similar level of stability/reliability with software such as Ableton Live, the performance to price ratio will make them very difficult to resist.
On a similar note, overwhelming demand from students as well as initiatives such as ‘Ableton for the Classroom’ are fast pushing Ableton Live to become the de facto standard in education for contemporary music production. Typically, Apple’s iMacs are a popular choice for schools, on account of their convenient all-in-one form factor and solid performance and the recently released M1 powered iMacs really double down on these benefits, being both incredibly thin and faster than ever. And very reasonably priced.
At this rate, by early 2022 there will be very little reason not to consider an M1 equipped Mac for any music production application. Unless of course, Apple announce the rumoured M1X or M2 processors beforehand (spoiler: they almost certainly will).