Review: 15-inch MacBook Pro with Touch Bar

For the past couple of weeks I’ve been using three new MacBook Pros: A 13-inch entry level model; a 13-inch with Touch Bar; and my favorite, a 15-inch with Touch Bar. As with all of my reviews, I’ll give you an idea of how I use the MacBook Pros in my daily life, but I’ll also give you a look at how it performed while working on some pro music projects.

First off, I have to say that I really don’t care about specs. I care more about how a machine or device performs when I use it. I know there has been a lot written about the new computers and how they aren’t good enough, but from my use, I just don’t agree.

It’s tough for me to understand how people who have never touched a new MacBook Pro can be so positive that they won’t work.

I know that having 16GB RAM is a concern for some people, but you could never put more than 16GB RAM in a MacBook Pro, so I don’t get the problem. Pros and other customers have been successfully using these computers for years. Just because it takes more RAM to use a Windows machine effectively, that doesn’t mean the same thing for a Mac. You have to look at the entire picture, hardware, software, system software, and memory optimizations.

Let’s talk about the ports for just a minute. Apple took away all of the traditional USB ports and SD card slot, replacing everything with USB-C/Thunderbolt 3 ports.

When I look at that change, I asked myself if I really cared, and the answer is, no. I’ve had an SD card slot in my previous MacBook Pros for years and I used it exactly zero times. Now, I understand that some people, especially photographers, do use it and it is important to them. However, It’s not like Apple left users high and dry. There are adapters that will allow you to plug in everything you need.

I know that’s another source of frustration for users, but it will only be a frustration until the devices we use come with USB-C by default. In six months or so, the ports won’t be the issue that is now for most people.

In the meantime, we have to buy adapters to use our current gear. I’m in the same position as everyone else in this regard. The adapter that I need for my music gear is a Thunderbolt 3 to Thunderbolt 2, which costs $29, after the recent price cut Apple made to most of its adapters.

Pro Music

For most music pros, the MacBook Pro is not going to be their main machine. It will be one of tools they use, but not the only one. There are times when mixing or recording may have to be done away from the main studio, so having a powerful, portable system is important.

I use a Universal Audio Apollo Twin so I can record with top quality gear no matter where I am. I also plug my headphones and Ear Monitors into the Apollo to monitor while mixing and editing files.

To see how the new 15-inch MacBook Pro would do with audio, I opened a 40-track Logic Pro project. The song had a mix of loops, drums, and live recorded instruments. I played back the track, recorded some more guitars, added effects and did everything I would normally do with a music project.

When I looked at the memory usage for Logic Pro, it was using 1GB RAM. The MacBook Pro has 16GB, so I have a lot of room before I ever have to worry about running out of memory.

I tried everything to make the computer stutter or glitch while playing and recording audio, but it just wasn’t going to happen.

I’ve been using Macs to record large music projects for 15 years. I couldn’t ask for anything more than what the MacBook Pro offers.

The rest of the MacBook Pro

I’ll be honest, my main concern with the MacBook Pro was if it could handle music creation—it did and passed with flying colors, but there’s more to this new computer than just pure power, so let’s take a look at some of those features.

I had one of the last generation MacBook Pros, but I choose to use a 12-inch MacBook as my main computer for one simple reason: the keyboard. I absolutely love this new keyboard. It’s the most comfortable typing keyboard I’ve ever used. The keys depress evenly, and with the MacBook Pro revision, there is just enough key travel to make it a pleasant experience.

One of the features that everyone is wondering about is the Touch Bar. Logic Pro1 hasn’t been updated to support Touch Bar yet, so I wasn’t able to try it while creating music.

I really like the idea of Touch Bar, especially since it changes based on what you’re doing on the screen. It’s going to be a very handy feature. The main thing with Touch Bar is getting used to using it instead of just doing things the way I always did.

Most of us are so engrained in our workflow that we do things without even thinking about. However, when you do think to check the Touch Bar, you can see how things can be done simpler and easier.

Here’s a small example. Have you ever opened the calculator app and had to choose to type in the numbers or click with the mouse? No matter what you do, it’s a pain just because of the type of app it is. With Touch Bar, all of the calculator functions are in the Touch Bar, directly above the numbers on the keyboard. This is clearly so much easier.

There are a lot of examples like this with Apple’s apps and there will be many more when third-party developers add support for Touch Bar in the next few months. I will need more time to see how I’m going to use it with music. A lot of that will depend on the implementation.

One of the things we rely on Apple to do with all of its products is make things easier. Touch ID did that for me. Of course, you can use Touch ID to login to the computer, but it was the other situations that made me appreciate Touch ID.

For instance, when the system wants your password to make changes, or delete an app, you can just place your finger on the Touch ID sensor and you’re done. The same can be done in System Preferences when making changes. It’s so much quicker than typing in your password. It’s a small thing, but it all matters.

Bottom Line

If you are looking at the MacBook Pro for everyday work, you will not be disappointed. This is a powerful, versatile computer that can handle whatever you can throw at it.

If you are a pro wondering if you should buy a MacBook Pro, I can tell you from my tests, the MacBook Pro performed incredibly well. In fact, I didn’t have a single problem, no matter what I tried.

Every pro category has different wants and needs. Perhaps buying an adapter will be more of a hassle for you than it was for me in the short term, but it won’t be like that forever. Thunderbolt 3 accessories will be coming and then this whole conversation won’t matter. A $10-$30 adapter is not going to stop me from having the best computer I can get to create music.

We expect Apple to move its products and the industry forward. Sometimes those changes can be difficult, but we can’t tell Apple to move forward, but not change anything.

The MacBook Pro is a great computer. Only you can decide if it’s the right computer for your needs. I’ve done my daily work with it, created music with it and I love it.

  1. Logic Pro is usually updated in January at the NAMM music show, so I expect that’s when we’ll see support for Touch Bar. 

  • Reality Check

    RE: Ram

    I am a serial updater…. I buy each iteration of apple products on release day (normally fully pimped out with all optional upgrades apple offers).

    I have 64 GB of ram on my Map Pro and it is great.

    I have had 16GB MacBook Pros for a long long time (at least 4 years) and running out of memory has never been an issue so although I was disappointed that the new tb mbp’s only have 16GB, it didn’t seem like a big deal…

    Until last week. The entire week I was having to close apps to get by as I was getting the warning I was low on memory. My workflow has now exceeded the 16Gb threshold. 🙁

    I have a 15″ tb mbp on order for myself and a 13″ tb mbp on order for my wife. I guess I will be upgrading again in mid 2017 as soon as intel gets their act together and apple can offer 32GB of laptop ram in the mbps…

    • Daniel de Boer

      Could you give us a more specific example of your workflow and how you exceed that 16gb?

      • Reality Check

        I my work in mainly converting data (databases) (I use Excel and SQL) along with everyday enterprise activities… (I spend lots of time in MS Remote Desktop).

        I have lots of tabs open in Safari, but nothing unusual.

  • Caleb Hightower

    Good review.

    I suspect Apple captures usage data from its computers and knows what percentage of people are actually using an SD card slot on a regular basis, and thus, this helps them decide if the port is arbitrary or not.

    I thought removing the magnetic power cable would be a step backward for innovation, but my MBP is always docked in a cradle attached to two Thunderbolt Displays. Therefore all cables are always tucked away. So I just wonder if data feedback could show that most people don’t have an issue with the power cord suddenly being disconnected from the laptop. (I admit this is a long-shot assumption).

    If Apple didn’t force innovation forward, then us Apple fanboys would all be living a Microsoft/PC-like experience, with bloated software and clunky hardware. I think the most important takeaway for me is:

    You have to look at the entire picture, hardware, software, system software, and memory optimizations.
  • GG

    Curious: Universal Audio hasn’t yet officially approved the Apple Thunderbolt 3 to Thunderbolt 2 adapter on the Mac, but it sounds like you had no issues at all, yes? We have three MacBook Pros on the way, and all 3 of us use the Apollo Twin as well.

  • Prof. Peabody

    Man, this is the most disappointing review ever. Most of it can be boiled down to “I like it!” and the rest is just an apology and a shrug.

    If a MacBook Pro is not a tool for a music professional then what have they been doing with them all these years? If it isn’t a tool for “pros” then why is it called MacBook Pro? What a load of crap.

    • Mo

      “I’ve been using Macs to record large music projects for 15 years. I couldn’t ask for anything more than what the MacBook Pro offers.”

    • of course you dont like it. your apparent mission is to hate on apple, why would you like a positive review? noticed your pattern here, and noticed it on AI before you got slammed so often that you left.

  • upright

    How was battery life on the 13 and 15″ with touch bar? The Verge had disappointing results, and it’s seriously making me reconsider my purchase.

    • upright

      Ah well — just cancelled the touch bar order, went with classic F keys

  • Dominic Shovelton

    In reference to your 1gb memory use on projects – I use a modest amount of orchestral libraries in my projects from the likes of Spitfire audio or ProjectSam, and once you have loaded a few string, brass & percussion libraries into Kontakt uses 16gb very quickly. What’s frustrating is the cpu is pretty much there for my level of production but 32gb of ram would mean I could run the studio off a MacBook Pro!

  • Herding_sheep

    My 2009 MacBook Pro only has 4gb of RAM. The groaning about the RAM limit kind of makes me laugh. At how outdated my machine is, but also how bratty some “pros” sound. I don’t really know what people do on macOS to necessitate 32gb, seeing as I’ve been scraping by with 1/8th that amount, but I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not a “pro.” Yes, I’m way past due for a new Mac, and can’t wait to get one of these new MBPs.

    Honestly the complaints don’t sound all that far off from the prior rMBP introduction. A lot of pent up demand, with unreasonably high expectations, mixed with a little bit of brattiness. People declaring usefulness of machines they’ve never even touched yet.

    • John Tall

      I think that having 16 GB might be fine for one operating system, at least for most users since there’s always exceptions. I need three, four, five VMs, sometimes more. Then I also want my IDE, web browser, email client, twitter client etc. For that 16 GB is not enough, often not even close.

  • John Tall

    16 GB might be fine for one operating system. I need three, four, five VMs, sometimes more. Then I also want my IDE, web browser, email client, twitter client etc. 16 GB is not enough, not even close.

  • underscore

    I think you’re laying it on just a bit too thick. The machines are an adequate tic on the MBP cycle but they don’t move the ball forward…certainly not as far as you’d think Apple could go with several years to think about it.

    I’m not in a rush to upgrade to this machine. Will wait a year or two and see if USB-C/TBolt3 takes over or if this thing remains the dongle magnet it is today

    • Adrayven

      It already is.. Dell, HP, Lenovo are already pushing USB-C/TB3 port only laptops. Don’t blink.. You’re THERE.

      Which is why I laugh at all the hand ringing from pundits about Apple doing it.. but praising the others.. more than a little hypocritical from tech media.

      Gets clicks I guess.

      • Mo

        And when Dell and HP units get reviewed, critics will use words like “innovative.”

  • Zetahills

    “I absolutely love this new keyboard. It’s the most comfortable typing keyboard I’ve ever used. The keys depress evenly, and with the MacBook Pro revision, there is just enough key travel to make it a pleasant experience.”

    I have to completely disagree here. But that’s why everyone’s mileage varies. We all like different things. With the new MBP keyboard, I hate how it feels! The second I move back to the 2015 MBP, the 2015’s keyboard is SO much nicer…more travel, quieter, just better all around. This new keyboard has no travel and clacks louder than any other. A complete deal breaker for me.

  • Zetahills

    And Apple is going to have to figure out a way to increase the amount of RAM on the MBP. They can’t stay there forever, anymore than they could’ve stopped at 4GB of RAM.

    Software and OS’s are getting increasingly more demanding, and they will forever, so they have to find a solution. Therefore, people saying that no MBP can have more than 16GB RAM is not only wrong, it’s stupid. We can land robot rovers on Mars… I think the smartest minds can manage figuring out how to add more RAM to a stupid MBP.

    Besides, Lenovo figured it out. Their P-series laptops can rock 64GB RAM. So what’s Apple’s excuse, especially considering the premium price they charge? Are we to conclude that Lenovo’s engineers are more intelligent, innovative, capable, and can do more with less money than Apple engineers can because Lenovo achieved it long ago, while Apple still hasn’t? With all the money Apple has (more than anyone), they have zero excuse. Maybe Apple should send their engineers over to Lenovo for some lessons.

  • JenJan
  • Luiz Pimenta

    I just found a kickstarter campaign the other day that allows you to charge your MacBook wirelessly as well as your iPhone with one pad. Here’s the link!