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Mac Pro: Endless flexibility for brilliant audio workflows

Wouldn’t it be nice to streamline your audio workflow? To deliver more quality projects on fewer machines – and to do it all faster, too? If reading this intro has sent you into a daydream, it’s time to wake up: Apple’s new built-to-order Mac Pro is here to make it all happen. All you need to do is choose how to kit yours out…

Mike Laskey

Since rumours of Apple’s new workstation for creative professionals first surfaced, tongues have been wagging across the industry. To say Mac Pro is a highly anticipated is a bit like saying a new series of Breaking Bad “might do quite well”.

But when it comes to audio workflows, how can you take advantage of all that power?

Where is it worth investing in the most high-spec components? Where can you make savings that won’t affect performance? And what’s the state of play for compatibility with the latest audio tools and apps?

We’ve done the research for you to break it all down.


A Catalina conundrum?

First thing’s first: there’s an elephant in the room. If you’ve heard that Mac Pro can only run on macOS Catalina, you heard correctly.

But while that might sound intimidating if you’re on an older Apple operating system, the good news is there’s absolutely nothing to worry about – many of the audio applications you’re likely to use on a day to day basis work perfectly with Catalina and Mac Pro.

In fact, we’ve tested a lot of them for ourselves with good results. Logic Pro X runs great on Mac Pro, as do versions 10.1.2 of Ableton Live and 10.2 of Nuendo respectively. PreSonus Studio One also works well, with Catalina support for version 4.5.4 and above.

We can also confirm from experience that Euphonix’s EuControl runs just fine with Mac Pro – we’ve operated it with an Avid S1 running with Logic Pro X, and it’s stable with the Avid S4 and S6, too.  

Of course, before you upgrade your workstation or your operating system, it’s worth checking your key plugins are compatible with Catalina. (Native Instruments’ Komplete 12 runs on Catalina, and we’ve seen iZotope and Nugen plugins running on Mac Pro despite official support for them not having been confirmed yet.)

 
What are my storage options?

With Catalina compatibility crossed off our list, it’s time to think about your Mac Pro build.

Up to 4TB of onboard storage is on offer, but there are plenty of aftermarket options to consider in addition. We think the Promise Pegasus J2i offers great value, shipping as it does with 8TB raw and a spare 3.5” bay for legacy drives (or to be adapted to 2.5” for SSDs).

If high-speed data transfers are critical in your workflow, an alternative is to go with the Sonnet M.2 4x4 PCIe Card.

This upgrade allows you to mount up to four M.2 NVME SSDs in your Mac Pro, for concurrent data transfer speeds reaching as much as 12,000MB per second – giving you rapid access to your samples.

 
Which graphics card is the best fit?

Mac Pro is also available with a range of different AMD Radeon graphics card setups. Much has been made of the performance potential of having two Pro Vega II Duo GPUs – each with 32GB of HBM2 memory – but as you may have guessed, it’s just a little excessive and superfluous for the average audio professional.

Instead, we’d recommend putting your money to better use by prioritising your CPU over your GPU, and ensuring your investment is in the right area for your workflow.

With that in mind, the AMD Radeon Pro 580X is our top tip. It provides great all-round graphics performance, with 8GB of GDDR memory and support for up to six 4K displays. Simply put, it’s the more affordable option – but it’s also more than capable enough for most audio workflows.

 
How many cores?

Apple is promoting Mac Pro as a creative pro powerhouse, and with good reason.

After all, it’s available with up to 28 cores, which is the most ever in a Mac and allows it to handle an awful lot of high-intensity tasks.

But with five configuration options to pick from (8-core, 12-core, 16-core, 24-core and 28-core), you’ll want your choice to cater to your needs now and in the future without taking up too much of your budget.

The 12-core configuration was the fastest benchmarked machine by Pro Tools Expert, making it a smart choice for audio professionals. Smarter still, though, may be to go with 16 cores – allowing for more longevity and maintaining higher performance in the years ahead.

However many you fancy, just make sure you check that your core option is qualified with your DAW manufacturer.

 
Wait, did you say Pro Tools?

We did indeed, and it’s worth mentioning that while Pro Tools is working brilliantly for us on Mac Pro, we’re still waiting for Avid’s official qualification to be announced.

In a similar vein, we’ve also got our ears to the ground for any news on options to use more than three HDX cards in Apple’s latest machine – which would be an exciting update if it comes to pass.

As for Dolby Atmos Mastering Suite, there’s support for macOS Catalina in version 3.4, and we’ve got it running successfully on the new Mac Pro. 

It’s definitely worth keeping up to date with all the latest support and qualification news.

 
How much RAM do I need?

This is where a bit of extra spending can really pay dividends for audio professionals.

If you’re buying a Mac Pro, we advise going big on RAM – it’s definitely worth it, with the additional cost likely to have a noticeable impact on your workflow.

Six or 12 DIMMS is best for optimal performance, and we strongly recommend a minimum of 96GB RAM, but ideally 192GB to ensure you can feed the Mac Pro’s high-performance CPUs.

The good news here is that we can source and fit affordable RAM with any Mac Pro purchased from Jigsaw24, taking away the hassle and bringing down the cost that little bit more.

 
What about host-based video devices?

If you’re going with Mac Pro, you can also grab the Focusrite Red 4Pre audio interface – Focusrite have confirmed compatibility with Catalina. 

But if adding that to your Mac Pro investment is more than you can afford, consider the cheaper SSL 2 or SSL 2+ interfaces from Solid State Logic, which are great all-in-one professional studios in their own right and, again, work well with Mac Pro and Catalina.

 
Pro workflows for pro users

Clearly then, there’s lots to consider when it comes to building your own Mac Pro.

The configuration that works best for you will all depend on your workflow, your environment and – of course – your budget.

But what’s true across the board is that that all the Mac Pro hype was justified. As the most powerful Mac ever designed, its ability to deliver projects that would previously have required multiple workstations means it can make life a lot easier for audio professionals.

Whatever your current workflow – and whatever your dream workflow looks like – Mac Pro is a workstation that can fit right into your business and grow alongside it.

Interested? We can help you design the perfect Mac Pro for your workflow. Get in touch with our team on 03332 409 210 or email audio@Jigsaw24.com. For the latest news, follow us on LinkedInFacebook and Twitter.

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