the ultimate desktop computer for creatives

The standout device at Apple’s Spring Event was the all-new super speedy Mac Studio computer.

It goes on sale tomorrow and I’ve been testing one of the M1 Max models out for the past week.

Its immense power has blown my mind.

As its moniker suggests, Mac Studio is aimed at creatives such as photographers, videographers, app developers, architects, designers, music producers and DJs.

It pairs perfectly with the firm’s new Studio Display.

That features a gorgeous 27in 5K Retina screen, a 12MP ultrawide front camera with Centre Stage, and a decent speaker and microphone set-up.

Here’s what I have found in my tests of both Mac Studio and Studio Display…

Performance

I had recently reviewed Apple’s M1 Pro powered 16in MacBook Pro and dubbed it the fastest and most powerful portable computer I had ever tested.

That beast had a 10‑core CPU and 16‑core GPU, 32GB of RAM and a 1TB SSD.

The new M1 Max powered Mac Studio I tested had a 10-core CPU, 32-core GPU and a 2TB SSD.

And it’s armed with 64GB of RAM which delivered up to 400GB/s of memory bandwidth – twice as fast as the MacBook Pro I reviewed and six times faster the original M1 chip.

The custom-designed Apple chip M1 Max has a 16-core neural engine that can run up to 11 trillion operations per second, which is a tremendous boost for machine learning tasks.

I pushed Mac Studio to the limits with projects including 8K Pro Res video editing, 3D animation, running Xcode scripts and mixing audio on Logic Pro.

Mac Studio with M1 Max can play more streams of 4K and 8K ProRes video than a 28-core Mac Pro with Afterburner. That’s nine streams of 8K Pro Res video in total.

While transcoding video is up to 7.5x times faster than a 27in iMac with a 10-core Intel CPU.

Less intensive tasks such as photo editing (even with huge files) – or importing and organising a 128GB card full of large RAW images – are an absolute breeze.

Most photographers would probably not need this much computing power, but if you’re processing large RAW files or editing composites in Photoshop, the additional RAM that Mac Studio has compared to the M1 Mac Mini would be hugely beneficial.

If you’re someone who shoots both high-volume and high-resolution stills and uses 4K and/or 8K video for your work, then Mac Studio is your dream machine.

And it’s such a joy to work on photos and videos on the Studio Display’s beautiful 27in screen. (See below.)

If you are someone who is a music producer or DJ, Mac Studio also makes a lot of sense. It can handle anything your DAW (digital audio workstation) can throw at it.

And the ample connectivity includes a pro audio jack for high-impedance headphones or external amplified speakers.

Mac Studio is also a very power efficient machine that in my few days testing has never got noticeably hot.

It runs silently most of the time too.

Design and build

This new category in the Mac line-up is a compact silver aluminium box that measures just 197mm (7.7in) each side, and a mere 95mm (3.7in) tall.

It looks a little like how two Mac Mini devices would look if placed on top of each other.

Mac Studio can be positioned discretely on a desktop and its compact design will suit anyone who is tight for space.

There is a built-in speaker and headphone port and all the connectivity you could need, with support for up to four Pro Display XDRs (6K resolution at 60Hz) over USB‑C and one 4K display (4K resolution at 60Hz) over HDMI.

Studio Display

I loved using Apple’s new Studio Display with Mac Studio.

It has a 27in 5K Retina screen with support for the P3 wide colour gamut that’s used by many professional photo and video editors. Peak brightness is rated at 600 nits.

It comes with a decent built-in webcam and six-speaker set, making it ideal for visual artists and people who spend a lot of time on video calls.

The webcam is the same 12MP ultrawide from the iPad range and it is has the same Centre Stage tech.

That’s made possible by the onboard A13 Bionic chip that helps out with image processing and Siri interactions, for example.

My review unit included a demo of a song writing session recorded in GarageBand using just the three microphone array that is built in to Studio Display.

It sounded impressive. The recommendation for recording is that you sit one to two feet in front of the display.

I tested the microphones out myself and for the purpose of recording quick off-the-cuff demos – or capturing a quick voice over for a radio show or podcast – they do a reasonable job. Even if my results lacked the polish of Apple’s demo.

For out of the box usability, these score well.

But the microphones can’t compete with the quality you will get from even a basic compact desktop audio interface such as Focusrite’s Scarlett 212 Studio (3rd gen).

Studio Display’s six built-in speakers are excellent in comparison to any other computer or display speakers that I have tested.

They offer an immersive and enjoyable experience when using the display to listen to music or watch videos and movies. The film Finch looks and sounds stunning – the Spatial Audio works brilliantly.

There is also sufficient depth, presence, clarity and volume for basic writing and arranging on Logic Pro.

You’ll still need a decent set of reference headphones or studio monitors for mastering and mixing.

It’s worth noting that Studio Display works with many other Apple computers (from 2016 on) and not just Mac Studio.

And it works with both the new fifth-gen iPad Air and the 2021 iPad Pro.

I hooked it up to a 16in 2019 Intel MacBook Pro and enjoyed all of the benefits during my daytime job running Adobe InDesign and Photoshop.

It also worked with a Windows laptop but you lose out on both Centre Stage and Spatial Audio.

My review unit was the standard glass version, but you can upgrade it with nano-texture glass (to minimise sunlight glare).

My stand had both tilt and height adjustment which costs an extra €460 compared to the tilt-only model.

It comes with a one metre Thunderbolt cable and power cable.

On the downside, it’s only got a 60Hz refresh rate. But as the monitor isn’t aimed at gamers, this probably isn’t that big a deal for many.

Universal control and macOS Monterey 12.3

Universal Control is included in macOS Monterey 12.3 and iPadOS 15.4.

This incredible tech enables you to control multiple iPads and Macs using a single mouse, keyboard and trackpad.

It is one of the best software features Apple has ever introduced and fundamentally underpins the deep integration between the company’s hardware and software.

No set-up is required as, once you are running the above free OS upgrades, the feature is enabled by default. The only requirement is that your devices are signed into the same iCloud account.

You just place your devices next to each other, then move your pointer to the edge of one screen and it bursts through to the next one, enabling you to copy files between the machines or type on one Mac with a different Mac’s keyboard.

For example you can drag a photo that you have edited on your Mac into the Notes app on your iPad. It’s smooth, it’s fluid, it’s mindblowing. And it’s a huge time saver when it comes to productivity.

The macOS Monterey 12.3 OS also includes the ability to enjoy FaceTime video calls in a grid layout like Zoom and adds spatial audio surround sound for movies.

You also get live text recognition in photos, faster note taking and improved privacy options for the Apple Mail app.

Features from iOS15 such as Focus Modes (a much improved ‘do not disturb’ function) are also on board.

Logic Pro

Apple this week released an updated version of its acclaimed DAW and music creation suite, Logic Pro 10.7.3, with new features, enhancements and bug fixes.

One of the new upgrades means when used with Mac Studio you can enjoy spatial audio monitoring with dynamic head tracking on AirPods Max, AirPods Pro, AirPods (3rd Generation) and Beats Fit Pro. (This works on any other computer running macOS Monterey version 12.3 too.)

Accessories

To coincide with the launch of Mac Studio and Studio Display, Apple has launched new black-and-silver versions of Magic Keyboard with Touch ID and Numeric Keypad, Magic Trackpad and Magic Mouse.

These wireless accessories all work as efficiently and fluidly as you might expect and their colour combo perfectly complements Mac Studio.

Verdict

In short, this is the best computer you can buy, at least until the new Mac Pro comes along.

It’s a worthwhile investment that could last you for five years or more.

You can spec it up even further with the M1 Ultra chip if you wish. That’s essentially two inter-connected M1 Max chips that perform as one big chip.

Pricing and availability

On sale March 18, Apple Mac Studio (reviewed M1 Max model) with 10-core CPU, 32-core GPU, 16-core neural engine, 64GB RAM and 2TB storage costs €3729. Entry level M1 Max model available for €2349. M1 Ultra models start at €4649.

On sale March 18, Apple Studio Display (reviewed model with tilt and height adjustment) costs €2259. Tilt-only and MESA mount adapter models cost from €1799. Nano-texture glass costs extra €250.

Mac Studio key specs (review model)

Dimensions: 950 mm x 197mm x 197mm

Weight: 2.7kg

Processor: Apple M1 Max

RAM: 64GB

Storage: 2TB SSD

Operating system: macOS 12.3 Monterey

Connectivity: wifi 6, Bluetooth 5, 10Gb Ethernet, 4x USB 4/Thunderbolt 4, two USB-C, two USB-A, HDMI, SDXC card, headphone port

Studio Display key specs (review model)

Dimensions: 623mm x 479mm (bottom position)/583mm (top position) x 207mm

Weight: 7.7kg

Display: 27in 5K (5120×2880) resolution, True Tone, 600 nits, 218ppi, Wide colour (P3), support for one billion colours

Camera: 12MP Ultrawide with 122-degree field of view and f/2.4 aperture

Microphones: Three

Speakers: Six with Spatial Audio

Connectivity: Three USB-C ports, one Thunderbolt 3 port

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