How the new Mac Studio works for this content creator

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Apple’s new Mac Studio desktop is aimed at a very specific demographic. It’s just in the name: “Studio”. Apple designed the machine from the inside out to meet the needs of creators and their creative workspaces.

As a long-time content creator, I wanted to see how the new Mac Studio and accompanying 27-inch Studio Display related to my current setup and workflow, especially since it’s the Apple’s cheapest professional desktop, now that the iMac Pro isn’t Suite.

Read more: Apple Mac Studio Review

The Mac Studio and Studio Display make an aesthetically pleasing pair.

Marta Franco/CNET

Why should you listen to me

I’ve been a professional video editor for nearly a decade. I worked in Hollywood for seven years editing and producing sizzling reels and pilots for television development, worked on a video series for Spotify, and edited digital content for America’s Got Talent. For the three years before I joined CNET, I ran my own tech YouTube channel where I edited almost all of my videos.

Ultimately, I’m a Final Cut Pro X editor. I’ve edited on all major NLEs (non-linear editing systems), from Avid to Premiere, and found Final Cut to be the editing software fastest and most efficient for my needs. In fact, I’ll be releasing a video on why I chose to use it in the coming weeks.

Final Cut only supports macOS, so when the Mac Studio was announced, it definitely caught my eye.

My home editing station comes first

I always prioritize my home video editing setup because that’s where I edit the most. I built an ideal workstation: a standing desk, an ergonomic chair, a large 5K monitor and a nice set of speakers to blast my edits and easily mix projects.

My current setup is a 2021 14-inch MacBook Pro with the M1 Pro chip. It’s hooked up to a 27-inch LG Ultrafine 5K monitor, and I’m using a Thunderbolt 3 docking station to connect all of my devices to my laptop with a single cable.

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My editing station at home is powered by the 14-inch MacBook Pro M1 Pro.

Justin Eastzer/CNET

I bought the 14in when it first came out in late 2021, and at the time it was my best option. An Intel-powered Mac Pro desktop would have been overkill for my editing needs, not to mention way too expensive for my budget. If the Mac Studio had come out alongside the new MacBook Pros, I probably would have opted for that instead.

The 14-inch M1 Pro costs around $2,500 (with a 1TB storage upgrade). The base model of the Mac Studio, which has the more powerful M1 Max chip, starts at $2,000 and would cost $200 more for the same 1TB upgrade.

That’s a significant price difference, and the fact that I already own a great 5K monitor, keyboard, and mouse means it wouldn’t require a lot of additional purchases. It would have been easy to grab a Mac Studio for my home office and use the old 16-inch MacBook Pro (2016) I already owned as a mobile editing system.

Now, if you don’t already have a monitor, the Mac Studio might not be as interesting as I find it. If buying a monitor isn’t a deal breaker, there’s the $1,600+ Studio Display, but there are cheaper options as well.

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Editing unrendered footage in Final Cut Pro X with Mac Studio was smooth and responsive.

Marta Franco/CNET

More power, similar price

Most of the sizzle reels I’ve used to edit use ripped 1080p footage as well as multi-layered graphics, so I’m not what you would call a “power user”. My technical videos are shot in 4K, with a maximum of two camera angles and some simple graphics. Both of these workflows work fine in Final Cut at “better quality” with my 14″ MacBook Pro M1 Pro.

Looking at CNET’s benchmarks, even at the entry-level Mac Studio M1 Max, it would outperform my current, and more expensive, 14-inch laptop. On top of that, due to the Mac Studio’s complex cooling system that takes up the top half of its internals, CNET’s Dan Ackerman claims the M1 Max performs slightly better in the Mac Studio than on the MacBook Pro.

I spent a few days editing on the M1 Max Mac Studio at the CNET office. I opened a project in Final Cut and deleted all cache files to see how it would work. Editing with unrendered footage and graphics seemed more robust than doing it on my MacBook Pro. Final Cut reacted instantly to mouse and keyboard clicks, making me smile. I was surprised how much faster the cut was on multi-layer graphics and how much faster the exports finished.

For my workflow, I don’t see the need for power beyond the M1 Max – I won’t come close to editing the 18 streams of 8k video that the M1 Ultra claims to support. The base model would be fine, and although I don’t need the extra speed, it certainly wouldn’t hurt. Faster rendering and exports will give me plenty of time to work on other projects.

Design space and office

At first glance, it’s obvious from the design of the Mac Studio that it was made for creatives. At the front, there are two USB-C ports (two Thunderbolt 4 on the M1 Ultra chip model) and an SD card slot. There are also four massive Thunderbolt 4 ports on the back, more than enough for connecting multiple monitors and players. Ports are back, baby!

We’ve seen it with the latest MacBook Pros and we’re seeing it here: Apple is finally putting function over form and bringing ports back to its devices. This seems like a change of direction from when Jony Ive, Apple’s former design director, focused on design and size over the ports that creatives liked.

As someone who constantly goes back and forth between shooting and launching it on my computer, the luxury of having an SD card slot right on the front is an instant win. I recreated this for my current workspace using a Thunderbolt docking station – which was around $300 at the time.

The Mac Studio offers the same benefits as my current Thunderbolt dock. I can connect my monitor, hard drives and speakers from the back and have a clean, wireless desktop.

I also like its minimalist design – it’s small for a professional desktop machine. There was a time when I literally packed my 5K iMac in its box and took it with me on trips. The Mac Studio is the perfect size to stash in your carry-on or pelican case and use as a portable machine. Grab a portable monitor and I’ll see you at the Delta Lounge.

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The 27-inch Studio Display offers ample workspace for video editing.

Marta Franco/CNET

What about the Studio view?

When The Studio Display was first announced I was very excited, but since then my excitement has faded. It costs $1,600, significantly less than Apple’s Pro XDR display, which starts at $5,000 and sadly adds another $1,000 for the stand. Still, I don’t think the Studio Display offers enough value, especially when compared to other monitors on the market.

Yes, the Studio Display includes a stand, which is a good start, but it doesn’t have a height adjustment by default. After sitting down for an editing session with it, it felt too low and I found myself wringing my neck. I prefer to look slightly upwards or directly at my monitor. Personally, I would replace the stand with the VESA mount (at no extra cost) and attach it to a monitor arm. The other option available is a stand with height adjustment, but that costs $400 more.

That said, there are other monitors that offer almost the same visual quality as the Studio Display at a fraction of the cost and with height adjustment included.

Read more: Apple Studio Display Review

When it comes to 5K, I love my 27-inch LG Ultrafine ($1,299, also available in 24-inch). The main differences are that the LG monitor is made of plastic and its peak brightness is 500 nits compared to the Studio Display’s 600 nits. There are plenty of other 4K monitors that would work just fine for me, including the Dell UltraSharp U2720Q ($600), which has nearly the same specs, just at a lower resolution and 320 nits peak brightness.

And you might be thinking, “But Justin, the Studio Display has great speakers!” That’s right – for a monitor. It has a six-speaker system, which Apple says is the most faithful speaker system ever created for Mac. The speakers sound good, but as a video creator I prefer much better sound quality in my editing bay and would always choose to use my professional monitor speakers.

Should creators buy this?

If you are a power user, the M1 Ultra Mac Studio can be a great option. If your workflow is similar to mine, you probably don’t need anything more powerful than the base M1 Max model.

If you already have a video editing laptop but are looking for your next upgrade, this might be the one for you. Keep your old laptop like a mobile machine, and if needed, you can edit with low-res proxy files and then upgrade them on the Mac Studio at home.

Personally, I’m happy with my current MacBook Pro M1 Pro, and I don’t need an extra Mac Studio yet. If I had to choose between the two, I’d probably opt for the Mac Studio at home and a cheaper MacBook Pro or MacBook Air for travel and proxy editing.


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