The world of laptops can be confusing. With so many different brands, options, and specs, you can end up spending so much time trying to find the perfect laptop that by the time you think you’ve found it, three more have been released and you are back to the beginning again.
Add to this that you want it for audio, and not just any old audio use, specifically podcasting, and you’ve got an extra layer of complication to think about.
But fear not! We’ve done most of the hard work for you, pouring over specs, reviews, and found some good options for you to look at and whittle down from our top picks to find one that fits your needs and budget.
Table of Contents
What are we looking for?
When it comes to the specs of a laptop it can be a minefield. They are advertised and marketed to sound great and to emphasize their strengths and minimize or ignore their weaknesses.
So, what are we looking for in a laptop used for podcasting? In a computer for any audio work, the three most important factors are the CPU, the amount of RAM, and the amount of storage space. In the technical specifications of the computer, these are the first things to look for.
Ideally, we want an i7 CPU, 16GB of RAM, and 1TB of storage space, with more RAM and storage if possible. It is also advantageous to opt for an SSD drive rather than an HDD drive for two reasons. The first one is the speed. SSDs are faster than HDDs and so will load your programs and boot your laptop faster. The second reason is that they are silent in operation as they have no moving parts.
Quiet operation is often overlooked and people end up with a great spec machine but fall somewhat foul of buying something too noisy. For this reason, you won’t find out and out gaming laptops on my list. Not because they are poor laptops, or incapable of being used for audio, but high spec graphics cards require extra fans, and, especially in a small, tight, laptop case, that means extra noise. For any form of recording, and especially recording the human voice, unwanted noise needs to be minimized as much as possible.
As well as our Holy Trinity of Computer Specs, we need to be able to use an audio interface, so it needs the right connections for that. We need our machine to be as quiet as possible after all. A burbling disk or a whirring fan can cause a serious issue depending on the recording environment.
Wouldn’t it be nice if…
Thunderbolt would be nice. That opens up a whole new range of possibilities for audio interfaces. HDMI is a good addition as well to enable an easy connection to a second monitor; this is something that improves the workflow and is highly recommended if you have space at home or in your studio. USB 3 would be great, as some newer interfaces want to use USB 3. As space is at a premium on many laptops, a single USB-C port doubles as USB 3 and even (on some PCs) Thunderbolt as well.
This is something worth a mention. A USB-C and Thunderbolt 3 port look identical. But they aren’t. With Thunderbolt, you can have data transfer speeds up to 40 Gbps, connect two 4K monitors, whilst outputting video and audio. It supports DisplayPort 1.2, HDMI 2.0, and 10 GbE networking. Oh, and power delivery just to show off. USB C can’t. USB C will give you 5 Gbps, 10 Gbps, or 20 Gbps, depending on whether it’s Gen 1, Gen 2, or Gen 3 (often referred to as Gen 2.2).
It’s worth pointing out here that the phrase ‘USB C’ describes the physical connector, not the capabilities of the port itself. You need to look at the specs of the machine to determine the capabilities of the USB C port in question.
Depending on your budget, however, all of these features are not always possible. Sometimes compromises have to be made and where that has been done, I have tried to make sensible ones and kept audio as the primary focus of the machine.
This is one area where a lot of your choice will be made for you. Some laptops are small, light, and ultra-portable. These tend to have a smaller screen, and in many cases will be a lower specification of computer or have a higher price tag for the spec. The main reason for this is the design and airflow. Computers need to be kept cool. In a desktop machine, that isn’t too hard with a nice big case and some fans to keep the air moving. In a laptop, it’s harder.
So, one way to help reduce cost is to make the case as big as possible with fans in it and mimic the way a desktop keeps cool. The more expensive way is to spend time and money in R&D working out airflow and clever use of smaller fans to keep the computer cool and reduce bulk and weight. This extra design work is a cost that is passed on to the customer.
In this article, I have opted to prioritize portability and assumed it to be a very important criterion. If someone is looking for a laptop, then portability is at least a part of the equation. I have included bigger and heavier laptops in some categories, so if a lightweight, smaller footprint machine is not as important to you as raw power, there are still options here you can choose from.
Mac vs Windows
Well isn’t this an age-old question? I am going to firmly and without doubt sit on the fence on this one. I know it’s the coward’s way out, but that’s what I’m doing. This is now as much a personal choice as it is one about technology. I like OS X, and it works well. I prefer it to Windows as an OS, but to be honest, that’s a personal preference. Both operating systems have their pluses and minuses, and so in this guide, I’m not going to argue for one over the other.
I’ll recommend them as equals and let you choose which is best for you (sneak preview; it’s the one your most comfortable with, have experience of, and already use).
A note about different models
With most of the laptops I have recommended in this article, there are different options and configurations of the same machine you can make which will alter the price for you. There may be some tweaks you choose to do when purchasing that push you slightly over the $1000 line, for example.
This isn’t a bad thing and nothing to be afraid of. If you are adding to the machine in terms of RAM or storage space, then great. At the moment, I would stay away from an i9 processor on a Windows machine as there are reports of some DAWs and plugins not being able to take advantage of the speed.
I’ve also chosen to stick with Intel processors for the most part. AMD, the main competition, are great processors, but the single thread speed, an important factor in audio recording, is better on Intel chips than AMD. Having said that, the newer AMD CPUs have shown some very interesting results and may well prove to be a change when they reach the laptop market, but for now, Intel just slightly has the edge for audio work.
So on with the picks.
Best Windows Laptop
The Microsoft Surface Book 3 is an astonishingly powerful computer in a small, light, and easily transportable frame. In my recommended 15”, 1TB, and i7/32GB configuration, you have a wonderful little computer that can go with you pretty much anywhere and be ready to record almost instantly. With a 10th Gen i7 CPU and 32GB of DDR4 RAM, you will easily be able to use your DAW of choice and plugins without crippling the machine. For such a small footprint, it is a very powerful and fast beast.
With two USB 3 (Type A) and a USB 3 (Type C) connectors and a full-size SDXC card reader built-in, there are connections here for work on the go and with the optional dock to connect to monitors keyboard and mouse at home, this is a ‘best of both worlds’ machine.
A few things I genuinely like about this is that it runs very quietly. Even when the fans kick in, they aren’t too noisy. Also, the use of the tablet format. When mixing, I prefer the tactile sensation of moving faders and twiddling knobs. With a tablet laptop, you can get close to this by using the faders of your DAW and moving them on screen with your finger rather than a mouse. It’s a way to help speed up your workflow and a way of working that works well.
Whilst the USB ports are in the removable keyboard section of the computer, the headphone socket is in the screen half. This makes a lot of sense when using it as a tablet but can be a bit of an annoyance having a lead on the computer when in laptop mode.
Overall, however, this is an excellent computer for podcasting. It’s light, portable, and powerful enough to meet the demands of producing good quality audio and has the ins and outs necessary for most audio interfaces. Thunderbolt isn’t catered for here, so you may want to read on for other options.
|NEW Microsoft Surface Book 3 - 15" Touch-Screen - 10th Gen Intel Core i7 - 32GB Memory - 1TB SSD...
|View on Amazon
Best Apple Laptop
As with the best Windows laptop, I have chosen a smaller MacBook Pro and opted for the 13” model for sake of weight and portability.
There are two options at the moment for a 13” MacBook Pro. The new 2020 option has four Thunderbolt 3 ports, and the older machine has two. This difference relates to a difference in possible specs inside the machine as well. The new version is my choice here – be careful when shopping that you get the newer machine.
This will give you a 10th Gen i5 CPU, 16GB RAM, and a 1TB SSD drive. This will give plenty of power for a DAW to work with and the star of the MacBook show is the screen. The Retina display is crystal clear, pin-sharp and you can throw a few other superlatives at it as well.
There are four Thunderbolt 3 ports available, one for power and then three for peripherals. A Thunderbolt hub is a good accessory to go with this and there are a plethora of portable choices that give you HDMI, USB, Display Port, card readers, and network adaptors that you may want to add. Not having these ports built-in helps keep the weight and size down and you can choose to purchase and carry the accessories you need.
|Apple 2020 MacBook Pro with Intel Processor (13-inch, 16GB RAM, 1TB SSD Storage) - Space Gray
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Best under $500
I’m going to go a little off-piste here and recommend a Lenovo Yoga-Book running Android 6.0
For an Android device it has good specs. 4GB of DDR3 RAM and an Intel Atom CPU. If this had Windows on it (which is an option) the specs would be unsuitable for audio as Windows itself would be too bulky to allow your DAW to access enough memory or CPU to run properly. But Android OS is designed and built to run on lower-spec, mobile devices, so on this machine, runs well.
Whilst the usual mainstream DAWs aren’t available on Android, there are some available, such as Audio Evolution Mobile Studio, which is a well-featured DAW designed for mobile use. There are other options, such as FL Studio Mobile too. As more and more mobile devices are coming equipped with USB-C, so an audio interface is a valid option for your mobile, there will no doubt be a growing list of mobile DAWs this little computer could use.
There is a USB-2 port on the side of this machine to plug your audio interface into and as a budget, ultra-portable, or beginner’s laptop, this is a good little computer.
|Lenovo Yoga Book - FHD 10.1" Android Tablet - 2 in 1 Tablet (Intel Atom x5-Z8550 Processor, 4GB RAM,...
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Another strong contender in this price category is:
|Lenovo - IdeaPad 15.6" Laptop - AMD Ryzen 3-8GB Memory - 256GB Solid State Drive - Platinum Gray/IMR
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Whilst it doesn’t have the fastest CPU (an AMD Ryzen 3) this is a compromise you will need to make at this price point. Another reason why I’ve recommended this one is that you can upgrade the RAM if you wish. So if your budget is tight, buy this now and then add another 8GB of RAM at a later date.
One thing this price point does ask you to sacrifice however is drive space. This comes with a nice fast SSD, but it’s only 250GB. In real-world terms, you will need a portable hard drive for storage and keep the built-in one nice and organized and clear of clutter. That’s not a bad habit to get into though.
Best under $1000
|ASUS ZenBook 13 Ultra-Slim Laptop 13.3” FHD WideView, 8th-Gen Intel Core i7-8565U Processor, 8GB...
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I’m a big fan of the Asus Zenbook range and this model is no exception. It comes in under our price point by using a slightly older CPU, being 8th gen rather than the current 10th gen, but it is a perfectly respectable i7 processor. Doing this means it can offer us 16BG of RAM and a 512GB SSD drive and remain under the $1000 ceiling.
You get a good, solid case which is important if taking this on the road with you, and a USB 2 and two USB 3 ports as well as HDMI, so connectivity here is good. No Thunderbolt, but at this price point, that is asking a bit too much.
Just squeezing into this price bracket is the Samsung Notebook 9 Pro.
|Samsung Notebook 9 Pro 2-in-1 13.3" Touch Screen Intel Core i7 Titan Platinum (NP930MBE-K01US)
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A 13.3” touch screen with an i7 CPU and 8GB of DDR4 RAM is a nice start at this price. These are a well-built machine as well with a similar metal casing to a MacBook. Nice and rugged for taking on the road with you. Also, for portability, it’s very light and slim. If you want to go a little over the price point, you can customize this to a more respectable 16 GB RAM and a 512GB SSD drive, rather than the 8GB and 256GB. This will make it capable of doing a bit more in terms of audio production.
As with all other computers in this guide, operating noise is a factor in recommending them, and this is a fairly quiet machine, considering its power and physical size. It has a nice sharp screen as well and excellent battery life.
Best under $2000
No ‘best laptop’ list would be complete, or taken seriously, without a Dell XPS somewhere in it.
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I’ve chosen this model for a few reasons. Not least is the amazing amount of RAM you get as standard. 32GB is a lot and you will notice you can run more in terms of memory-hungry plugins with it. You’ve also got a 9th Gen i7 CPU, a very respectable graphics card, and a 512GB SSD. For the ins and outs, you have USB-C, Thunderbolt 3 and USB 3, an SD card reader, and HDMI, so everything is covered here. Also, it’s not big and bulky even with the 15” screen, weighing in at 5 LBS.
The Dell XPS is often considered to be one of the best, if not the best, Windows laptop ever. They are often the one that other laptops are measured against, a bit like the humble SM58 is the one all other live dynamic mics are compared to. Well built, fairly portable, not too heavy, and a really good spec. What’s not to love?
My other choice here has a couple of interesting features I think you will like.
|ASUS ZenBook Duo UX481 14” FHD NanoEdge Bezel Touch, Intel Core i7-10510U, 16GB RAM, 1TB PCIe SSD,...
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The Asus ZenBook Duo has two screens. No, that’s not a typo; a laptop with two screens. As well as a really good machine, 10th Gen i7, 16 GB RAM, 1TB SSD, you get a screen above the keyboard, as well as the usual clamshell laptop screen. This gives the laptop a slightly odd shape and the screen is an unusual 14” in size, but it’s not so outrageous that getting used to it won’t be a quick affair. With three USB 3 ports HDMI and a USB C port as well, there’s plenty of scope for plugging things in.
The thing that intrigues me about this screen configuration is that I could have the main editing window on the main screen, then have the mixing window on the smaller screen and use my fingers to move the ‘faders’ rather than the mouse. You could also have the transport bar on that screen to hit record, play etc which will give you even more of that ‘studio’ feel.
With a laptop, I find trackpads to be even fiddlier than a mouse and on this laptop, the trackpad is quite a small one on the right-hand side of the keyboard. Some people love using a trackpad, but I prefer a mouse, or better still, real knobs and buttons. This laptop can give you the feel of real controls and the portability of a nice small machine. At 3.5 LBS, it’s a long way from being too heavy to carry around as well.
Best Premium (over $2000)
For Windows PCs, there is one real and clear option here. This is the PC AudioLabs Rok Box MC m10.
Without a doubt, it will do the business with regards to audio and video. With a price tag of $2,999 for the ‘preconfigured’ model on the website – which can be upgraded from there – you have a serious investment, but a serious machine to go with it. The only changes I would make to this would be to change the processor for an i7, and 64GB of RAM. The only reason for these changes is to ‘future proof’ the machine as much as possible. Those changes will up the price tag to a whopping $3,679.97, but, to paraphrase Spider-Man, with great power comes a great price tag.
A 17.3” screen gives you plenty of space to see what you are doing clearly. 16GB of DDR4 RAM, though you can upgrade to a maximum of 128GB if you choose, gives you plenty of fast memory and two m.2 SSD drives, one at 500GB for software, and a 1TB to store your projects gives you plenty of space. The m.2 SSDs are lightning-fast and silent, so booting and opening software will be extremely quick.
There are also some special audio features you don’t often see on laptops or even many desktops for that matter. There is an S/PDIF Digital output directly from the machine, a decent quality Array microphone, a pair of 3W speakers, and a 5W sub. Yes, a sub, in a laptop. This is powered by a built-in Sound Blaster Atlas sound card. Whilst, not a fully featured Audio Interface as we understand them, you will get better native sound quality and reproduction from this machine than many other laptops.
This makes editing your work on the train with a pair of good quality headphones (see Best Headphones for Podcasting for help in choosing headphones to go with the laptop) a serious possibility.
You’ve also got plenty of ins and outs to go at as well including Thunderbolt 3, HDMI, USB C (USB 3.2) and three USB 3.2 ports, the good old-fashioned type-A, and two audio jacks, one headphone/microphone, and one microphone/ S/PDIF.
You’ve also got a 6 in 1 card reader for memory cards from field recorders, or handheld recorders, a super handy port for audio uses.
There is also a very respectable graphics card in the unit should you wish to add video editing, or even a spot of gaming, to help those cold winter evenings fly by. This is, without a doubt, an excellent audio workstation in a laptop format. But it does weigh 10LBS. It’s a heavy beast, but an extremely powerful one. If you can handle the weight of it, then this is an excellent premium Windows laptop for podcasting and so much more.
As I refuse to take sides in the Mac vs Windows debate, I’m going to add a Macbook Pro in here as an option, specifically, this one:
|Apple 2019 MacBook Pro (16-inch, 16GB RAM, 1TB Storage, 2.3GHz Intel Core i9) - Space Gray
|View on Amazon
As with the AudioLabs Rok Box, this can be configured for your specs and budget. With a Mac, the i9 is a good option. OSX takes better advantage of the i9 processing power than Windows does and so it is worth the extra price increase. It will also keep your Mac working better for longer as the OS updates into the next generation. Maxed out to 64GB of RAM and a 1TB SSD, this is a machine not to be sniffed at but isn’t cheap either.
Weighing in at 3.1 LBS, it’s a lot lighter than my premium Windows choice, a little bit less expensive, although you will need to add on the cost of some peripherals for USB, HDMI etc, and very similar in terms of processing power.
So that’s my pick. I think I’ve picked the best of the bunch for podcasting. I hope this has shed some light on the thorny topic of choosing a new computer.