The new Mac Studio desktop from Apple is geared toward a very specific demographic. It’s right in the name: “Studio.” Apple designed the machine from the inside out to cater to creators and their creative workspaces.
As a long-time content creator, I wanted to see how the new Mac Studio and the companion 27-inch Studio Display related to my current setup and workflow, especially as this is Apple’s least expensive pro desktop, now that the iMac Pro is no more.
Read more: Apple Mac Studio review
Why you should listen to me
I’ve been a professional video editor for nearly a decade. I worked in Hollywood for seven years editing and producing sizzle reels and pilots for TV development, worked on a video series for Spotify and edited digital content for America’s Got Talent. In the three years prior to joining CNET, I ran my own tech YouTube channel where I edited nearly all my videos.
Ultimately, I’m a Final Cut Pro X editor. I’ve edited on all major NLEs (nonlinear editing systems) from Avid to Premiere, and I’ve found Final Cut to be the fastest and most efficient editing software for my needs. In fact, I’ll be coming out with a video on the reasons why I choose 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 at-home edit station comes first
I always prioritize my at-home video-editing setup because it’s where I edit most. I’ve 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 consists of a 2021 14-inch MacBook Pro with the M1 Pro chip. It’s connected to a 27-inch LG Ultrafine 5K monitor, and I’m using a Thunderbolt 3 dock to connect all my devices to my laptop with a single cable.
I purchased the 14-inch when it was first released in late 2021, and at the time it felt like 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. Had the Mac Studio come out alongside the new MacBook Pros, I most likely would have opted to go for that instead.
The M1 Pro 14-inch cost about $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 another $200 for the same 1TB upgrade.
That’s a significant price difference, and the fact that I already own a great 5K display, keyboard and mouse means it wouldn’t require a lot of extra purchases. It would have been an easy decision to grab a Mac Studio for my home office and use the older 16-inch MacBook Pro (2016) I already owned as an on-the-go editing system.
Now, if you don’t already own a monitor, then the Mac Studio may not be as much of a deal as I find it to be. If the purchase of a monitor isn’t a deal-breaker, there’s the $1,600-and-up Studio Display, but there are less-expensive options as well.
More power, similar price
Most of the sizzle reels I used to edit use ripped 1080p footage plus some multilayered graphics, so I’m not what you would call a “power user.” My tech videos are shot in 4K, with two camera angles at most and some simple graphics. Both of these workflows run just fine in Final Cut running at “Better Quality” with my M1 Pro 14-inch MacBook Pro.
Taking a look at CNET’s benchmarks, even at the Mac Studio’s base level M1 Max, it would outperform my current, and more expensive, 14-inch laptop. On top of that, because of the Mac Studio’s intricate cooling system taking up the top half of its internals, CNET’s Dan Ackerman says 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 up a project in Final Cut and deleted all the cache files to see how it would run. Editing with unrendered footage and graphics felt more robust than doing it on my MacBook Pro. Final Cut reacted instantaneously to mouse and keyboard clicks, bringing a smile to my face. I was surprised by how much faster the cut played over multilayered graphics and how much faster exports finished.
For my workflow, I don’t see the need for power beyond the M1 Max — I won’t be coming close to editing the 18 streams of 8k video that the M1 Ultra claims to support. The base model would be just fine, and while I don’t need the extra speed, it definitely wouldn’t hurt. Faster rendering and exports will give me a lot of time back to work on other projects.
Design and desk space
At first glance it’s obvious from the Mac Studio’s design that it was made for creatives. At the front, there are two USB-C ports (two Thunderbolt 4s on the M1 Ultra chip model) and an SD card slot. There’s also a whopping four Thunderbolt 4 ports in the back — more than enough to connect multiple monitors and drives. Ports are back, baby!
We saw this with the latest MacBook Pros and we see it here: Apple is putting function over form at last and bringing ports back to its devices. This seems to be a change of direction from when Jony Ive, former chief design officer of Apple, put an emphasis on design and size over ports we creatives valued.
As someone who is constantly running back and forth between shooting footage and throwing it onto my computer, the luxury of having an SD card slot right in the front is an instant win. I recreated this for my current workspace using a Thunderbolt dock — which cost about $300 at the time.
The Mac Studio provides the same advantages as my current Thunderbolt dock. I can connect my monitor, hard drives and speakers through the back and have a clean, wire-free desk.
I also love its minimal design — it’s small for a pro desktop machine. There was a time when I literally packed my 5K iMac into its box and brought it with me on trips. The Mac Studio is the perfect size to throw into your carry-on or in a pelican case and use as a portable machine. Grab yourself a portable monitor and I’ll see you at the Delta lounge.
What about the Studio Display?
When The Studio Display was first announced, I was very excited, but since then my excitement has faded. It goes for $1,600, significantly less than Apple’s Pro XDR Display, which starts at $5,000 and infamously adds another $1,000 for the stand. Still, I don’t think the Studio Display offers enough value, especially when you compare it to other monitors on the market.
Yes, the Studio Display includes a stand, which is a great start, but it doesn’t have height adjustment by default. After sitting down for an editing session with it, it felt too low and I found myself craning my neck. I prefer to look slightly upward or directly at my monitor. Personally, I would swap the stand for 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 an extra $400.
That said, there are other monitors that offer nearly 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
As far as 5K goes, I love my 27-inch LG Ultrafine ($1,299, also available in a 24-inch). The main differences are that the LG monitor is made of plastic and its peak brightness is 500 nits versus the 600 nits of the Studio Display. There are lots of other 4K monitors that would work just fine for me, including the Dell UltraSharp U2720Q ($600), which has almost the same specs, just at a lower resolution and a peak brightness of 320 nits.
And you may be saying, “But Justin, the Studio Display has great speakers!” That’s true — for a monitor. It has a six-speaker system, which Apple says is the highest-fidelity speaker system ever created for Mac. The speakers sound great, but as a video creator, I prefer much better sound quality in my edit bay and would still opt to use my professional monitor speakers.
Should creators buy this?
If you’re a power user, the M1 Ultra Mac Studio may be a great option. If your workflow is similar to mine, you probably don’t need anything stronger than the base M1 Max model.
If you already have a video editing laptop but are looking for your next upgrade, this could be the one to go for. Keep your older laptop as an on-the-go machine and when necessary, you can edit with low-res proxy files, then up-res them on the Mac Studio at home.
Personally, I’m happy with my current M1 Pro MacBook Pro, and I don’t need a Mac Studio in addition to it just yet. If I was deciding between the two, I would probably go for the Mac Studio at home and a less-expensive MacBook Pro or MacBook Air for travel and proxy editing.