SSD or HDD for music production?


It used to be the case that HDD was the only digital storage option available for music production, but in recent years, the SSD has become far more popular, and relatively affordable for home computers, meaning laptop musicians can take advantage of their features.

What is better for music production? How much of a difference does it make? Should you worry which of the two types of hard drive you have in your computer or laptop when you are producing music?

The simple fact is that an SSD will outperform a HDD in pretty much any task for musicians.

More or less this debate comes down to the read and write speeds. Musicians need to be able to load projects quickly, write data quickly (new recordings and MIDI files) and they want to avoid any latency or lagging on the project they are working on. 

DAW software can be demanding on your computer, and an SSD (combined with other functions such as a good processor) makes lighter work of loading the samples and processing the project.

In spite of recommending the SSD as the best solution, there are a number of factors to consider, and actually, in some situations, you may not need the considerable extra expense of an SSD.

Read on as we delve deeper into the pros and cons of SSDs and whether they are always worth the extra cash.

Differences Between SSD and HDD

We won’t go into too much detail on the scientific aspects of the differences, but basic knowledge might be helpful. SSD stands for Solid State Drive. SSDs have no moving parts, they are flash storage just like the pen drives you may use for transferring data.

As well as being smaller in a computer’s motherboard, they are much faster. 

HDD stands for Hard Disk Drive. A HDD uses magnetic tape and moving mechanical parts, making them both larger and slower to read and write data.

HDDs do have one major benefit compared to SSDs, though. They are still significantly cheaper, and you can get a lot more storage for your money. If you need to store thousands of hours of recordings, SSDs might be overkill and they may well be a very pricey alternative, though the prices do continue to drop.

Considering the Function

The answer to whether you should use an SSD or a HDD for music production should largely boil down to the function. What do you need the hard drive for? Is it internal or external?

In the vast majority of cases, internal hard drives, for both laptop and desktop computers, should ideally be SSDs. They will be responsible for coping with the functions of the computer and running the operating system as well as reading and writing. SSDs just cope better with this.

If you are looking for a drive, either internal or external, for recording directly onto, or loading samples and sounds directly into your DAW, then an SSD will be the best option once again. The read and write speeds will be far more suited to performing quick functions, and avoid lagging and frustration, which can occur when you start asking too much of a slower HDD.

However, for some functions, a HDD is sufficient and an SSD would be overkill. For example, consider which would be best when archiving large recordings and samples that you may wish to call back in the future, or storing old, half-written songs that you may wish to return to one day. Ultimately, a HDD is fine for doing this, and it is certainly a cheaper way to do it than buying SSDs. 

I still have an external HDD drive as a backup drive which I store all my old songs, ideas and plugins on just in case. If I ever need any of these files again I will transfer them back onto the SSD drive on my Macbook Pro. I would never record directly onto the HDD these days. 

Still unsure? The best way to consider which type of drive will work best for you is to think about whether the materials stored on it will be in constant use, or just need to be safely archived for the future. Sample libraries will be best on an SSD if you are regularly using the samples. Old recordings you might revisit for a remix in a few years are fine on a HDD. The extra speed is not worth the extra expense in this scenario.

The Speed Difference

What is the actual difference in speed? This can be hard to measure, and for some people who are slightly less tech-savvy, it can be hard to understand. 

Generally speaking, an SSD tends to read and write 4-5 times as quickly as a HDD. That is a significant upgrade.

A 7200 RPM HDD could historically transfer data at somewhere between 80 and 150 MB per second. This is fine for archiving and backing up old recordings, but for the process of making an album, an SSD will be much better. In theory, their speeds can be around 20 times as fast for reading and writing (depending on which model you buy). A 4 or 5 times increase is enough for most of us, though.

Durability and Breakability – Which Drive is More Hard Wearing?

It is easy to assume that the faster model is less sturdy, but this is not the case. Among the benefits of an SSD is the fact that it has less moving parts. Though we do not recommend a “drop test”, some people have claimed that dropping an SSD is actually far better than dropping a HDD, and you’re less likely to lose the data.

This may not be a key consideration for some users. If you only produce in one location it could be irrelevant. However, if you are a laptop producer, constantly making music on public transport and in libraries, or on your lunch break, an external SSD might take a bit of a hammering.

Neither are indestructible, but an SSD is more likely to survive a fall.

What is the Price Difference Currently?

The Storage Newsletter recently placed the price difference at 2.7x. This means that for every $1 spent on storage for a HDD, you would need to spend $2.70 for the same space on an SSD. This difference is less stark than it has been historically. Some people even claim that there could be parity in the prices pretty soon.

Is it worth the extra?

For currently active projects and recordings, we would definitely say that it is worth this extra investment for the speed and efficiency it will bring, as long as you’re not trying to run a brand new SSD with an old, decrepit motherboard and processor.

Beware the Budget Brand

Another quick side note. Always do your research when buying an SSD. Branded is often better, and you should make sure you have read numerous reviews. The desperation for cheap flash storage has made an opening in the market for a few brands to market their low-quality SSDs for cheap, but they are often cheaply made, too.

Best SSD Drive Options

Internal

So now we have concluded SSD is the way to go, which is the best option to buy? Well I tend to still record to my internal SSD drive on my Macbook Pro as I use this laptop exclusively for recording and it has 500GB of storage.

I still believe Macbook Pros are the best laptops out there for home recording if you can afford them. They are fast, rugged, reliable and will probably last you up to 10 years! Well worth the investment. I wrote an article on my top laptops for music production which I update fairly regularly. 

External

I often get asked the question “can I record directly to an external SSD drive?”. In short the answer is yes you can. If you want more details please check out this recent article.

This is a great option if you have an internal HDD and want better speed and less latency or if you don’t have much internal storage or use the computer for other things. 

Music files take up a lot of space and can fill a hard drive very quickly. Keeping everything on an external drive keeps things neater and running smoothly. 

I would recommend the Samsung T5 Portable SSD Drive, as an affordable option. With the choice of 500mb, 1TB or even a massive 2TB of storage, you will be able to record away for years without any issues. 

One Last Important Thing 

There is one important thing to bear in mind. Simply getting an SSD drive will not automatically solve all your issues. If you are experienced lag or crashing the hard drive may be to blame but it may also be to do with you not having sufficient RAM, a good enough processor or perhaps not having the correct drivers. 

To be certain your laptop or computer is up to the spec required for music production, check out this detailed checklist

In Summary

Though an SSD is recommended for music production in the majority of situations, HDDs might have their place too. The above guide can help you choose between SSD and HDD for music production based on your own specific needs, and the project you are working on at any given time.

Rob Wreglesworth

Rob has come to terms with the fact he will probably never be a famous rock star....but that hasn't stopped him from writing and recording music in his home studio. Rob has over 15 years experience of recording music at home.

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