Last week I bought a MacBook Pro. Today I received it in the mail. Shocking how that works. I wanted to write down my thoughts on the experience and why I decided to bankrupt myself for a laptop.
To address the very expensive elephant in the room: I purchased a refurbished 2018 15-inch MacBook Pro from Amazon as they were selling a few for $1500. For those that are fortunate enough not to know: that is relatively cheap for a MacBook Pro. Still, why would I even pay that much for a laptop? There’s a couple of reasons, but the main one for me is music.
I’ve been producing on Linux using Bitwig for over a year now, and Bitwig itself is great. It worked incredibly well on Linux and if I were entirely a digital musician, I probably would have never changed. The main issue I had was with recording live material, specifically guitar. Trying to work around PulseAudio and JACK is a pain in the ass, and for whatever reason, my laptop just didn’t play well with my audio interface. I’m not sure if it’s because the driver for the interface was reverse engineered and not totally optimized, or if my laptop was just shit at recording audio.
In any case, recording was an issue. As I’ve wanted to incorporate more guitar into my music, the recording problems I encountered were frustrating to the point of being obstructive. Even with very lightweight settings – 44.1 KHz sample rate, 20ms buffer – I would regularly get glitches and audio dropouts. The only thing I could do to combat it was to record a single line for 32 bars, and then stitch together the bits without dropouts into a 4- or 8-bar pattern. This was both time-consuming and frustrating.
So, I came to the realization that I needed to go back to an operating system that was better supported for making music, which left me with two options: Windows or Mac.
After using Linux full time for several years, both professionally and casually, I can say that it’s certainly soured my taste towards Windows. I’ve also been working in a 90% Windows environment for almost a year. Windows was thoroughly out of the question.
So, I’ve bit the bullet. And now I have a shiny new toy to play with. How do I like it?
Surprisingly, I don’t hate it.
The build quality is something to behold. It costs a premium, but it feels like a premium product. The touchpad is great and intuitive and the keyboard is fast and tight. I’m even surprisingly content with the touchbar, which continues to find new ways to be useful to me. I’m also very happy that with iTerm and brew, I can get a very Linux-like experience.
After a couple hours of situating myself and installing everything I thought I would need, I just had to try how it performs with recording. I fired up Bitwig, and plugged in my audio interface and my guitar. I am happy to report that I can now easily record at 96KHz with a less than 1ms buffer. I can record with double the precision in practically real-time. I can’t express how happy I was to hear clean, crisp recordings for the first time in a year.
I used to dread firing up Bitwig on my old laptop because I knew the frustration that I was in store for. Extreme latency, audio pops, dropouts during recording, hours of stitching together decent takes, and it just made me want to not try. But now, I no longer have to worry about any of that. It’s surprisingly motivational, even a bit exciting. I’m really eager to get back down into Bitwig and actually record for the first time in years.
I am sad that I’m leaving Linux, though. Yes, I don’t technically have to leave it, but I know that I’m not going to be powering on my old laptop again anytime soon. All my data was migrated off and moved onto backup storage. I have new SSH keys generated and added to relevant places. All the things I would use Linux for I can now replicate on this machine. It is sad, but I am thankful I got so involved with Linux and now know it so well. It has shaped my opinion on what a real computing experience is like, and I owe a lot of my knowledge of computing to dedicating so much time to Linux.
Well, that was a lot of rambling, and it’s getting late and my eyes are getting tired. What’s my final verdict?
I like my MacBook Pro. I really hope it helps me achieve my musical goals, while also still letting me pursue my technological goals. I guess in time, I’ll see how it performs in doing both.