Q It Up: Mac vs. PC in the Production Studio

Q It Up Logo 4Q It Up: In the August issue, we interview Chadd Pierce, who had an interesting comment. He said he felt Mac hardware is far less friendly to the professional editor than it used to be, putting PC ahead. Chadd actually works with Pro Tools on Mac at work and on PC at home. What's your take on Mac vs. PC in the production studio? And if you have experience on both platforms, be sure and let us know. 

Scott Smokin' Silz, Hot Mix Entertainment, Chicago, IL: A Mac is like a Mercedes: You put the key in and drive. The PC is like a Chevy: You open the hood and you tinker with it. Mac has consistent components inside. If you open 5 of them up, everything is the same. On the other hand, the PC has a different set of components in each machine. Most companies buy PCs because they’re cheap, and you have IT people making the buying decision. The big companies look to buy whatever is cheapest, and the people with the buying power don’t have to use them to get the job done. As far as ease of use, you can’t beat a Mac. Just make sure you buy one that you can add enough memory to. Some of the macs are now meant to be low end starter machines designed to compete with the price point of a PC. Walk in any major studio (not radio production department) and you will find that Mac is the industry standard. (Heck, even Adobe figured that out and came up with a Mac version of Cool Edit Pro… it’s called Adobe Audition.)

Ronnie Kohrt, Ronnie K Productions, Burlington, VT: I've always felt that a producer should use the tools he feels most comfortable with. You thrive when you're most comfortable. That goes with the seat you sit on, the mouse you use and the software and hardware you work with.

I understand that many can't control this at radio stations -- raises hand -- but speaking to the producers who might be working on home studios. Don't be swayed to purchase or use something, just because someone else gave it rave reviews. Figure out what suits you best and go from there. This goes with microphones and DAWs as well.

If you're more familiar or efficient on Mac while using it daily, you no doubt will be more efficient using Pro Tools or Adobe Audition on Mac and vise-versa if a PC user. This is assuming you're working with a computer on either side of the stick that will accomplish your project with power, ease and efficiency. Work with what makes you comfortable. Your best pieces will show when you do.

I switched completely to Apple products at home about two years ago and never missed a beat after being a PC guy for the longest time. I've always preferred Apple's IOS and put their products head and shoulders over everyone else, but money was just never there. When the right time came, I invested and certainly was pleased with it.

That said, the moment Apple started soldering their RAM to the computer for the retinas (obviously to influence us to buy higher RAM computers out of the gate, thus spending more money) my interest needle swung 50/50 between the two. Chadd Pierce is absolutely right when he says Mac is a tougher cookie to dissect nowadays. You buy it out of the box, it works great, but there's little modification or chance to 'upgrade' afterwards without buying a new computer.

Meanwhile, PCs and their parts can be swapped, flipped, switched, modified and changed with ease. This obviously isn't something that probably interests the general user, but when editing anything, audio or video, the more beef, the better!

I believe as long as you have an appropriate and efficient computer running your program, it's the DAW that really matters. I am excellent on Adobe Audition and Pro Tools. But put me in front of Reaper, and I struggle mightily, even with proper training! Heck, Reaper and Pro Tools are even quite the same! I still find myself having little efficiency and not producing stuff I'm stoked to create. It's all personal preference... or, I'm just an idiot. Probably both!

When it comes to tools, there's really no right and no wrong. It's all personal opinion. Remember, it's not the type hammer that gets the job done, or what brand the hammer is, it's the carpenter who's using it who gets the job done.

Gary McClenaghan, Imaging Director, Bell Media, Edmonton, AB: Whatever works for YOU. I personally use a PC, but in no way think it is superior. It’s the producer that makes the difference.

Ben Thorgeirson, Ben Thorgeirson Voice Over: I don't mind using either for editing, but I prefer the organization of a PC. I feel it's easier to locate my work parts and keep my sessions tidy.

Kyle Whitford: For about 20 years, I have used both Mac and PC. I like them both plus other tools that help me get the sounds I want.

Interesting that at B97 in New Orleans, I produced on a Roland box for 3 years, and when it went back to the shop for about a month, I produced everything on a piano keyboard using samples. I also used Studer reel tape machines when needed. All of Gary Spears syndicated Retro Show voice work was done from that studio in those days, plus any commercial production I produced for Steve Johnson of Walton and Johnson.

My son, Ben, went to SAE in London to learn Pro Tools, then he taught me. I also use Adobe Audition, a Boss BR1200, and any other thing that makes decent noise. I have always tried to make them into tools rather than being dedicated to any one of the brands. Overall I prefer simple machines with an easy learning curve. Even with lots of options I find myself using only 4 to 6 tracks and a few processing effects. My rule: use what you've got and adapt where needed. I once rewrote a spot to have crickets throughout to cover up the chronic squeaking Ampex reel-to-reel machine. With the mic on, the squeaking was ever present.

Crickets worked perfectly. Use what you've got.

Jeff Augustine: I've owned an iMac for about 7 years now, and it is part of my main VO and production rig. I really, really like Macs for VO and production. I know people have heard this time and time again but it's true... I can plug whatever in my Mac and it just works. I've never had to download or update drivers, never had a virus that bogs my machine down... for me it's a good fit.

I upgraded my RAM to 6GB a few years ago and run Adobe Audition CS6 and it works flawlessly, and it is superfast for a computer that's 7 years old. I'm sure PCs are a great fit for others and I still use one occasionally, but for me Mac is what I'll always use for my VO and production.

Gary Michaels, WASK, WKOA, WKHY, WXXB, ESPN, Lafayette, IN: I really have little experience with Macs outside of HD video production, so my view will be incredibly skewed. All the audio production I've ever done is via PC using Sony Acid, Sound Forge and Spectra Layers Pro at my radio stations and my own studio. I know this software inside and out and have lots of experience building Windows based PCs from scratch to perform the way I want them to. I'm not quite sure I can buy part and parcel Mac components to get the performance I want for audio production, though I'm sure a Mac Pro is more than capable. I just know PCs and Windows based software too well to be comfortable trusting an unknown. But again, that's MY choice, prior experience and comfort level and not a statement on PC vs. Mac performance or value.

Mike Hansen: Whatever you work best with. Some people see a Mac and freak, and vice versa. I personally feel both have their pluses and minuses. The Mac platform was more stable at one time, but that playing field seems to have leveled out.

Do what you need to do to make it shine!

Al Peterson, Radio America Network, Arlington VA: If I was right in the head, I really would stay impartial. This Fall I'll be teaching Adobe Audition to broadcast students at Montgomery College in Rockville MD, on both PC and Mac hardware (booting to Windows), so I have to be competent on both hardware platforms and not show any favoritism.

Having said that, I have to warily side with the PC crowd. A lot of folks I know who have made the shift to Macs have done so via the iMac; affordable, but essentially welded shut, obviating any future upgrades or modifications. Pricier Mac models have an upgrade path, but not everyone will spring for that kind of money. PCs benefit from a wide range of affordability and functionality, and even the least-expensive PC hardware can be opened and tweaked. On the downside, the newest mobo hardware has killed backwards compatibility: a four-year-old power supply cannot be moved to a brand-new build (weird pinout), few if any modern machines can receive older PATA hard disks, and surplus RAM from earlier computers won’t work or fit the slots of modern machines. And PCI sockets are all but gone, so forget that favorite soundcard you were hoping to transplant!

I'm a bit outside the sphere of conventional radio production software because I personally use the Ardour DAW under Linux on PC hardware. To the credit of its authors, it runs on Intel hardware under Mac OS X and on Intel and AMD hardware under Linux, so it will turn in comparable performance on both platforms. Given a choice, I would probably continue to use it on PC iron because I can more easily "pop the hood" and upgrade my box with compatible, inexpensive commodity hardware as needed.

JJ Thomas: I much prefer PC over Mac, and have always used PC. If you know your software, and you system well enough, you need not worry about viruses or bugs.

AND, if you're ANY GOOD, you know to back up EVERYTHING, ALL THE TIME. Just in case something DOES happen.

And that's all I have to say about that.- F. Gump :)

Rob Crewe BBA, Certified Audio Engineer, Bell Media, http://www.robcrewe.com: 10 or even 5 years ago, this was a non-issue… Mac’s simply worked better for A/V production purposes. But there was also a large variance from DAW to DAW.

Now, however, technology has evolved to the point that, from a quality of output perspective, just about any DAW is as good as another. It all comes down to which one works for YOU, and, of course, the quality of your hardware (pre-amps, AD/DA, etc.).

I’m kept on the Pro Tools Route (currently 11HD) to stay compatible with a lot of the studios I freelance for, Logic-X out of simple comfort and legacy, and FCP-X from a cost/benefit comparison to AVID. But I’m certainly not married to either.

My 2009 MacPro 8Core with 32gig can handle any/all of these as efficiently as a New PC. But,  now as I look at the next generation of interfaces, software, OS, and such, the cost difference from building a New PC vs. Buying the New MacPro Trash can, taking in consideration the positive reviews of the newer Microsoft platforms, it’s getting more and more difficult to justify the expense of remaining a “Mac Guy”

For now, I do love the simplicity of Mac. Adding, removing files/programs is pretty simple, viruses are a virtual non-issue, but between the websites that can guide you on how to build a PC geared toward Audio/Video Production, and companies that have sprung up and build and warranty PCs (example, Pro Tools PC), it’s my personal opinion that the industry is evolving, and no one can claim to have an untouchable foothold. Even Pro Tools, long regarded as the Holy Grail of audio software, while still my favorite DAW, its parent company, AVID, has done wonders to turn their customers running away from them to other DAWs like Reaper, Studio One, Cubase, etc., in droves.

At the end of the day, I think it’s like arguing ones favorite beer… If my Mac died tomorrow, and Pro Tools stopped working, I could build a PC and pick up a new DAW and be back in business within a few days…

Jay Helmus, Newcap Radio, Richmond, BC: I want to preface this by saying that while I'm definitely above average in computer literacy, I'm no IT wizard. I have a functional understanding of computers and hardware, and while I'm technically skilled enough to build a computer from scratch, I wouldn't do so without my engineer buddy looking over my shoulder. Because I'd probably screw something up.

We run Macs on all our machines at work, and I used to own an iPhone before switching to Android. So I'm not just an ignorant PC fanboy who has never tried the alternative. I've tried both, and I prefer PC. The Macs at work were not my choice. But for my home studio, and for my freelance business, I use PC all the way. Why?

Mainly because for $1500 I was able to buy a BEAST of a computer that can run Pro Tools (and crazy amounts of plugins) like a champ. Dedicated SSD drives, tons of processing power with all the bells and whistles etc. If I were to buy a Mac, the price would be almost double for an equivalent machine. No thanks.

Stability? I prefer PC as well. I have way more Pro Tools crashes at work, and I have almost none at home. Granted, my Mac at work is a few years older, so maybe it's not a fair comparison, but everything seems to run way smoother for me at home.

Compatibility? PC wins again. Honestly, macs don't play well with anything that isn't Apple. I hate that. PCs play much nicer with nearly everything.

Troubleshooting? PC wins by a landslide. When a Mac has errors, it's very difficult to find the problem and troubleshoot it. PCs don't have 'fewer' errors (perhaps I'd even concede they have slightly more), but at least you're able to troubleshoot and fix them WAY easier if you know how. Macs are so closed, and it's frustrating.

Resale value? Mac wins here. Big time. Try to sell a PC desktop on craigslist. I couldn't even give my last one away. But you can always sell an older mac for surprisingly quite a lot. It blows my mind.

Archer Dusablon: This issue really varies with the taste, habits, preferences and needs of the user, but I personally think Adobe Audition CS6 left Pro Tools and all the other wanna-be audio editors in the dust. The key, though, is using a stable Windows OS, like XP (no longer supported) or Windows 7 Professional. I have yet to have a "screen of death" on Windows 7 since it was introduced - for me it has actually outlasted a durable PC. I will not yet go to Windows 8 because I need extreme speed in production, and can't deal with a new OS learning curve at this time. Those who prefer Macs now have Audition CS6 available to them, too, so I can't imagine why a very busy radio producer who seldom needs more than 8 or 12 tracks would slave away on the way-less-operator-friendly Pro Tools unless they're recording a symphony orchestra.

Craig Jackman: I've always been a PC guy, although I'm experimenting with remote recording on iPad. The IT department for my former company preferred PCs in all production studios, but would make exceptions for certain Producers who had to have Pro Tools on Mac, but they were few, far between, and not necessarily as well looked after.

Andrew Frame, BAFSoundWorks: I have always been hesitant about adopting Mac as a work platform for a couple of reasons.

First, upgrade issues. Comments I receive from colleagues about application or OS upgrade compatibility problems that bring them almost to a dead stop for more than acceptable periods of time. Personal experience with non-audio applications on our household Macs reinforce this. Otherwise I like the build quality of the hardware.

Secondly, and most importantly for our office, disaster recovery. While we producers may religiously backup our hard drives to external or cloud servers, what happens when the hardware - the big box itself - fails?

The cost of maintaining a second Mac for backup purposes is steep. A cheap Windows laptop can be pressed into service until the main box is repaired or replaced, which can be done in a few hours from a local big box retailer. There are lot more Wal-Marts and Best Buys than Apple stores.

Finally, consideration of what OS the editor application will run with. There is simply no equivalent for Cool Edit Pro/Audition for Mac or Linux. There are many good NLEs available, and IMHO, most are too complicated for routine radio and television work.

Also, I have over fifteen years of projects done in CEP, and I would at least have to keep a Windows laptop or something available when I had to pull up an old session for updates. It's not often, but it is often enough that it's part of the overall equation.

So, I have taken a page from the old school, and have a dedicated Windows XP workstation for Cool Edit Pro/Audition, and some specific legacy software. Remember the Orban? That was a dedicated machine, unless your engineer had it networked. There were others, too, in late ‘90s radio and television stations.

All non-audio office work is on either a Debian GNU/Linux based desktop, or an iMac. Laptops are Linux and Mac based. All three operating systems are used about equally for the business.

It all comes down to what editor you like (or are system-invested in), what OS it will run on, and what your finances will allow. I really don't think any combination is better than another these days. Software and hardware engineers have provided us with some outstanding kit for us to work our craft.

Walter Wawro, WFAA-TV, Dallas, TX: Mac at work. PC at home. Since I'm the audio guy that's in TV, Mac is a no brainer. Our production and creative services people all edit on Apple's Final Cut Pro software. I've been a Pro Tools user since the late ‘90s and full time since 2004, so the synergy is obvious. We're all on an internal network so swapping video and audio files is easy.

For the big stuff I'm most comfortable working PT on Mac.

I chose PC for home and I run Pro Tools 12 with Windows 7 Pro 64 bit. My home PC for PT is a custom build, so I haven't had any configuration issues, plus I don't do anything video oriented at home. It's handy for me to edit small projects and the quick and dirty stuff! The only thing I have to remember is that the 'command' key on PT Mac is 'control' on PT Windows, and they're in slightly different locations. I also have a PC laptop that runs PT and I have no issues. Windows 7 Professional is stable for me, and I'll stick with it until Microsoft takes it off support.

 I haven't had any difficulty starting a Pro Tools session on a Mac then taking it home and finishing on PC, then bringing it back to work and reloading to Mac. Fortunately I have the same plugins at home as I do at work for the most part.

My Final Cut Pro skills suck. I need to work on that!

Kevin Anderson, TLC Media, Bay City, TX:  I have both platforms at my disposal, but consistently choose the PC. I find that I can edit a file and get it to air faster and easier with the PC. When speed is the number one concern, I'll work in Audition. Pro tools is great for those spots that need a little extra, but it's so loaded with features it is often slower to get to the final product. Pro Tools on the Mac is visually appealing, but time is money so for me, PC is the clear winner.

Gord L Williams: I hope you are including Linux in PC, but wait! The operating system Mac is based on almost the same thing, but it isn't open sourced. Which of course Mac users will say means it’s unfinished or under developed.

To answer your question like that probably doesn't help, so I won't. I will however say that I chose my operating system and hardware carefully through wild experiments and eventually found out what parts of my theories actually worked.

I have to admit all along, Mac probably worked. My home system which became my studio wasn't as funded and I cobbled together Windows based systems based on ASIO and eventually felt ripped off when Adobe abandoned support for a $500 software, (Audition 3.0) and I could no longer get the key to work to install it. I would have been fine to stay in stasis in terms of version, but this was not about to happen.

I toyed with the idea of a Mac based system, but after that Adobe mistake I was dubious. I saw things like a dongle for Pro Tools. I retreated from that, even though I knew the hardware on a Mac could probably keep up and not be so laggy as some of the PC based systems I was then using.

I eventually bit the bullet and bought a fast enough PC to run the software but noticed my wallet was continually being tapped for this plugin or some other needed to have product. The entire studio didn't seem likely. This was around the time when sound cards hadn't quite gone fire-wire or USB, and Mac had a clear advantage in what was then a proprietary world.

A few years later I happened across USB that worked and two channels is all I have used since. Plans for those nice to have extra channels has been tabled. I do carry an extra two channels but lack the ambition to try and bridge two cards on the same MIDI clock.

It’s now quite doable and has been for about four years or more to have a Linux based system using the Jack sound system and something like Ardour as the DAW. It’s all a voice-over guy wants and many bands with multi-input cards can make do nicely. I have gone further and invested in Mixbus by Harrison and have had great results tracking long and short projects with Linux.

I cannot comment on compatibility with other DAWs, though it’s claimed that you can export sessions rather easily and the Pro Tools people can live with you quite nicely. I seriously doubt that it will come to that for any project I am involved with, but if it does – it’s simply a learning curve.

I believe there is no real answer to your question. Everyone can get along because the standards are interoperable to a great extent. It’s just the long tunnel that we peer through to get from then to now that may cause some debate.

I have long approached my business as a business. You have to spend right and you have to plan for succession. Many studios end up being money pits or somehow end their lives. There was a “state of the art, digitally wired," studio in Morin Heights, Quebec where Rush, David Bowie and others did some great recording at. It’s now a "was video" with Neil Peart on Youtube.

Whatever the choice, PC or Mac, digital or warm analogue, what matters is it’s used and doesn't run dry of projects to do.

Jose Serato, Univision, San Diego, CA: I have work with both systems Mac and PC. With the version of Audition that I have, I had more problems with PC crashing and losing my work. For me it seems that Mac does not crash as much as PC -- could be that I just had a bad machine.

Bobby Ocean Cart QitUp webBobby Ocean: TAKE ONE - WHAT'S YOUR QUESTION? The Question, informed by his use of Pro Tools, both on Mac (at work) and on PC (at home), seems to be already be answered by the one asking, when reading his added editorial remark, "...putting PC ahead." He prefaces by saying he feels Mac hardware is "far less friendly to the professional editor than it used to be," and implies the query, "What's your take on Mac vs. PC in the production studio?"

Well, I think I see more than one question. Because one, "What's better at working with audio, Mac or PC?" depends on "What's the audio software app YOU are working with?"

QUESTION: WHAT AM I WORKING WITH? In my studios evolution, I have deliberately avoided Pro Tools and I'll tell you why. First: More expensive than it needs to be. Available competitive software has proven you don't need to spend that kind of money to cut audio.

Second: Too complicated. We ARE talking about RADIO production, not producing records, right? When I make a mark here and make a mark there, and go to "Edit/Cut," THAT's what I want the software to do. Instead it asks me, often more than once, "Are you sure...?" It's as if Pro Tools doesn't know I have an Undo toggle.

Third: I wanted to create more than one audio studio, using more than one software app, and I wanted to do all this on an Everyman budget. We ARE in the digital age and just about every serious audio software editor is excellent, with a less expensive and more highly priced version; either OS, Mac or PC, take your pick.

MORE QUESTIONS: WHICH SOFTWARE, WHICH OS TO USE? So, which is better when it comes to SOFTWARE? That's your choice. AND, in this Digital Age, they're all precision good. Which is the better OS to manipulate audio files? Mac was the innovator and PC has been trailing, imitating its competitor's GUI since Woz sold his first garage units. It could be that PC finally got smooth, making it as good as, not better than Mac.

Now, if you're using Pro Tools or another "territorial" software which needs another computer's Operating System to speak its language, do your research, ask around. Ask people like our questioner above, and others working in Production like me, or any other Production Rat, but ask more than one. Find out what they use and if they like it, if not, why. Determine who's telling you what their experience is, who's telling you what they think they believe and who's just defending their choice of spending a ton of dollars for the most expensive wave editor (more for each effect plug-in).

END OF BUDGET WOES: Know that there is no need any more to be restricted by impossible-to-reach tools and their accessories. No need to have money as a hurdle (there are free software apps many professionals use every day; your choice).

Here's what I know: Mac has always been the innovator with all graphics, painting, vector illustration, book setting, music making and audio. It came with their initial hippy days Mission Statement which dedicated their best efforts towards a machine that would benefit commerce, business, as well as the arts and humanities. PC was 'business only.'

I do often have occasion to employ a PC these days, usually video editing, some PhotoShopping, bookkeeping. Mostly my assistant sits behind the keyboard. It's her machine and she can make that PC do things a TV Super Powers Hacker character would envy.

TWO ANSWERS TO ONE QUESTION: We are rapidly approaching an age where all OS's will be one. But what about right now? Mac or PC this present moment? Like life itself, along with its many possibilities, it's a matter of choice. My beautiful assistant has made her choice; PC. I have made mine, (some Android!) mostly Mac. I don't think the PC or any other OS has topped the Mac; I think they've gotten better at imitating one.

There are no finite answers to the Which Is Better questions. There are choices. Where there used to be limitations, now we have only possibilities?.

Steve Wein, KTRS, St. Louis, MO: Back in 1996, when Clear Channel bought our group in Cleveland, they walked in with a bunch of new Apple computers loaded with Pro Tools with a sweet two-screen setup. I unplugged the multi-track reel-to-reel, rolled it out of the way, and quickly learned the Digital world. Since then I've never looked back! Every stop along my career up through today, Pro Tools on Mac has been my standard, even though I've learned and used other systems.

Here at KTRS St. Louis, for the past nine years, I've used Pro Tools on PC, even though my home studio has Pro Tools on my iMac. I prefer Pro Tools on Mac because for me it seems to be more intuitive. Mac seems to handle the processing faster, and probably because I've been a Mac user for almost two decades, I'm still more comfortable there than using Pro Tools on PC. 

George Johnson: Security is the reason why I prefer the Mac. Years ago I spent a ton on the latest dual core Dell Computer. It was the top of the line with all the bells & whistles, plus the anti-virus security installed. 6 months later it was toast. I called Dell and used a lot of those "expletive deleted" words. Microsoft offered no help; it was their operating system and recommended antivirus controls. I took the box up to a computer tech store, and there was nothing they could do. So, I stopped by an Apple store, and spent a fortune on a Mac, and haven't had any security problems since. Mac automatically upgrades, and you download. 95% of the world is still on PC; everyone else is on Mac. Most producers I know favor the Mac for this reason, and they like the quality of sound. When I watch TV or listen to the radio I cannot tell if their commercial & promo content was produced on a Mac or PC. Technology is always improving, but there are those out there that want to hack, steal and harm. So I do my best to stay away from the internet, and do not open or do any email on my studio computer. By the way, this response is being sent from my MacBook Pro lap top.

Mike Chase, Radio One, Upper Marlboro, MD: I have yet to work on Mac. Still on PC for home as well as in the station studio. In fact I'm also exclusively on Adobe Audition.

Joshua Mackey, www.MackeyVoiceTalent.com. I started with audio production on a Mac way back in 1999. In 2005, when I started in radio, I went to PC. I've been using PC's ever since. Now, I am looking to invest in Mac again. It's true that PC's have come a long way in providing the audio and video drivers that make producers' lives much easier. However, for me, the stability and security provided by Apple goes a long way to selling me on their hardware and operating system. I've had numerous issues with Adobe crashing on my PC (and it's not the size of my computer). I'm now looking to expand my business to produce other types of media than just audio, and Mac has the horsepower I'm looking for. I can build my own PC and get a comparable system for a little less money, but the stability of a Mac keeps calling to me. But that is me. Everyone has preferences, and everyone has specific applications for their computer. These are the driving factors. Right now, on a strictly objective and professional level, I would say neither has the edge.

Chadd Pierce, Krash Creative, PierceVoice.com: While BOTH Mac & PC are good for professional audio, the difference is in hardware design. Both use Pro Tools about the same way (each respective operating systems has quirks), but you can't crack open a Mac tower and upgrade the hardware like a PC. For Krash Creative, it's vital that we are able to replace and/or upgrade the video card, which makes PC more of a smart purchase, especially when combined with Adobe Creative Cloud's all-encompassing audio/video software.

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