Best Motherboards for Music Production

Best Motherboards for Music Production – While you won’t need a particularly esoteric hardware list for a digital audio workstation, the example builds you’ll see below are still pretty unique.

Many of the build guides here on CGDirector focus on visual production pipelines — pipelines that tend to take advantage of multi-threaded CPU processing and GPU acceleration.

Meanwhile, audio production favors single-threaded CPU processing with almost no GPU acceleration.

It’s also worth noting that there’s a fair bit of audio equipment that doesn’t fit into the scope of this build guide. It’s hard to give generic advice for things like microphones and mixers, but many system builders will still want to account for those purchases in their overall budget.

ROUND UP

Your digital audio workstation is an important part of your audio pipeline, and you can definitely benefit from taking the time to plan out a well-tuned build. It won’t make you a better musician but can make it easier to focus on the work that matters.

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1.ASUS ProArt Z490-CREATOR

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OUR TAKE

Along with a new socket also comes the integrated support for Intel Wi-Fi 6 and 2.5Gbps LAN – pushing networking performance a step over the outgoing chipset.

Now what we have here is the ASUS ProArt Z490-Creator 10G. A motherboard built for creators featuring 10Gbps capable PCIe expansion card, dual USB Type-C with Thunderbolt 3 support and a styling that doesn’t reek gaming and RGB lighting. This motherboard doesn’t come with Wi-Fi 6 though. A bit of a shame, since it could be a winning combo on paper considering the board’s price at $299.99 USD.

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2.MSI Z39MSI Z390-A

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The main difference between the MSI Z390-A PRO and the rest of MSI’s Z390 product stack is that this board isn’t specifically targeted towards gamers. The aesthetics are simple with a coffee colored PCB which does include silver patterning across it; primarily around the edges of the board and around the silver and black heatsinks.

The main selling point of the MSI Z390-A PRO is in its value with a good selection of controllers including an Intel I219V Gigabit Ethernet controller and a Realtek ALC892 HD audio codec handling the onboard audio.

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3.Gigabyte B550M AORUS PRO-P

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Previously, we reviewed the least-expensive B550 MicroATX motherboards we could find using the Ryzen 9 3900X CPU. Though some couldn’t handle overclocking, we found that most of these boards had no issues dealing with the then-flagship Ryzen 9 3900X.

So what if you want to use the newer Ryzen 9 5950X? For the most part, these boards can handle the new CPU at stock settings, but not PBO or overclocking. For that, you will need to step up a tier. To that end, we’re looking over the Gigabyte B550M Aorus Pro, which has better power delivery, more features, and a slightly higher price tag than entry-level B550 boards. Will it make our best B550 motherboards list?

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4.ASUS ROG Crosshair

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The OG Crosshair VIII Formula leads the pack, followed by the Hero and WS, with the Strix, Prime and TUF lines mixed in on the way down the product stack. With a total of 10 motherboards in its lineup, Asus has enough options to suit most builds.

The Asus ROG Crosshair VIII Hero Wi-Fi’s  price point lands it in the upper mid-range of all X570 boards. The overall experience with the board was positive, as stock testing completed without a hitch and performance was as expected, with results right around the other boards.

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5.Asus Prime Z390-A

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OUR TAKE

Starting with the premier entry-level Prime range, the ASUS Prime Z390-A is an ATX sized motherboard and features a white, silver and black design throughout. The board has a white rear panel cover and chipset heatsink, with integrated RGB on both with support for ASUS AURA Sync.

The PCB has a white patterning which contrasts quite nicely and represents one of the more subtle looking ASUS Z390 options. The Prime Z390-A has three full-length PCIe 3.0 slots with two getting treated to ASUS Safe slot armor protection and the slots operate at x16, x8 and x4 from top to bottom. This means the Prime Z390-A officially supports two-way SLI and up to three-way CrossFire multi-graphics card configurations

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6.Gigabyte GeForce GTX

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Like the GeForce GTX 1660 Ti, the GeForce GTX 1660 is a mainstream waypoint between low-end Nvidia cards like the GeForce GTX 1050 and the much pricier GeForce RTX line. The card carries all the benefits that Nvidia made with its switch to the Turing architecture, while leaving behind the specialized Tensor and RT cores that give the GeForce RTX line of cards their higher prices.

The first GTX 1660 card we tested, Gigabyte’s $219 GeForce GTX 1660 OC 6G, is the GTX 1660 in fairly stripped-down form, but it provides solid performance and makes a fine mainstream upgrade from previous-gen video cards like the GeForce GTX 960, GTX 1050, or GTX 1060.

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7.Gigabyte Gv-N165SWF2OC-4GD

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8.MSI MPG Z390 LGA1151

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The reasonable price brings with it an extra bit of power to support Intel’s new flagship Core i9-9900K processor–and that’s just enough to equal the value of its moderately-priced predecessor.

Obvious changes from the previous-generation Z370 model include the MPG moniker, which stands for “MSI Performance Gaming,” a smaller RGB section on the I/O section’s top cover, and a lower M.2 drive cover that gets more integrated into the design, as opposed to the Z370 Gaming Pro Carbon’s standalone cover on the top M.2 slot. Less obvious with the MPG Gaming Pro Carbon is the Gen2 front-panel USB 3.1 connector, which gets its 10Gb/s interface from the new Z390 chipset’s integrated controller

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9.ASUS AM4 TUF

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Asus’ TUF lineup has changed from the ultra-robust, heavy shielding it was known for in years past and has evolved more toward gaming-centric boards with protection on individual parts such as the PCIe and DIMM slots. ESD guards, additional surge protection measures and military-grade components are still a part of the TUF lineup, but the additional hardening went beyond what was necessary for most use cases.

These changes have made the Asus TUF Gaming X570-Plus Wi-Fi the second-least-expensive board in the Asus X570 product stack just missing the mark to be  our best motherboards pick in the budget X570 category.

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10.GIGABYTE GA-A320M-S2H

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Best Motherboards for Music Production – BUYER’S GUIDE

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CPU vs GPU

Audio processing is inherently sequential and frequently real-time. It requires a high degree of computational accuracy, and a lot of it can’t be parallelized.

Hitting the performance limit of your CPU can cause playback errors known as buffer underruns — pops, cracks, and other audio artifacts which, while they won’t show up in the final export, will make it harder to dial in your production.

This means that digital audio workstations are fairly unique. They focus almost exclusively on single-thread/single-core CPU performance, with extra attention paid to things like cache sizes and RAM bandwidth limitations.

GPU-based audio processing is rare, and mostly limited to experimental projects; for audio, your GPU’s mostly there for the sake of supporting your displays.

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Memory and Storage

Audio files are large, hard to compress, and hard to stream from disk. Audio takes up a lot of space, both on-disk, and in-RAM, and the aforementioned reliance on live playback and production means that memory limitations can lead to painful bottlenecks.

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Display

While you won’t have to deal with the costs associated with wide-gamut displays, most DAW software benefits from having some additional screen space for all of the tracks and controls you’ll end up working with.

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Cases and Fans

We don’t normally cover computer cases in-detail, as there are a lot of subjective factors to consider. For audio workstations, however, there are two fairly important details to consider: Size and noise.

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Memory

The internet is full of articles offering different takes on how much RAM you need for audio processing — as I said above, it’s a popular topic — and the recommendations they give run the gamut from a mere 8GB to a full 128GB.

Before we get to our own recommendations, let’s explore the reasons behind this spread.

The amount of RAM you’ll need for digital audio production will depend on how many plugins and sample libraries you regularly use.

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Storage

For SSDs and HDDs the standard advice applies: Get at least one of both, and spring for a second SSD as a scratch disk if you can.

Keeping your applications and operating system separate from your project files will make it easier to upgrade your storage later on.

That said, you’ll probably get more use out of your SSDs than your HDDs, outside of backups. You’ll want everything you interact with frequently — (especially!) samples, project files, plugins, etc — on your fast storage, and you’ll only throw projects onto your archive disk once those projects are fully trunked.

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Motherboard and Sound Card

I’m pairing motherboards and sound cards together here, as the main concerns (outside of the usual size and PCIe speed concerns for motherboards) are similar: I/O, EMF shielding, and audio latency.

But I need to back up a bit. Do you actually need a sound card?

While internal sound cards were mandatory back in the day, improvements in onboard audio processing and the rising popularity of fully external audio interfaces make traditional sound cards somewhat redundant, as media generalists rarely need them and audio producers tend to favor the EMF shielding, I/O accessibility, and amplifier quality that external interfaces offer.

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Frequently Asked Questions

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Which Chipset Do We Recommend?

If you are building a desktop PC, then we highly recommend that you either invest in the Z series Intel motherboards or the X series AMD motherboard for audio production.

These have a better overall quality and have the power design to handle the high performance processors without any issue. If you plan to overclock or require more PCIe lanes to support more SSDs or PCIe add in card etc, the Z and X series are again the go to choice.

Of course, it is not uncommon to find most professional audio producers using workstation PCs and hence you would be compelled to invest in the large and the premium X or the TRX40 chipset motherboards to cater to the powerful processors.

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WRAP UP

Best Motherboards for Music Production –  Building your first PC is a fun, rewarding, and extremely stressful process. Are all the components going to work together? Did you overlook anything? You can use PC Part Picker to view compatible PC components and create mock PC builds, but there are 4 things to consider before building a PC for music production that PC Part Picker isn’t going to mention.

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