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  • Music Technology & the New Macbook Pro: Some Compatibility Considerations

    October 28, 2016 3 min read

    Last night, Apple released their highly anticipated new MacBook Pro range of laptops.  They look great and have some nice new features.  As usual, they are thinner, lighter, and more powerful than previous models; boasting 130% faster graphics, up to 100% faster flash storage, 67% brighter display, better-inbuilt speakers, more responsive keyboard and trackpad, and housed in a body that is up to 17% thinner.

    Apple is no slouch when it comes to innovation, and this time it shows in the form of a sexy little touch sensitive glass strip that replaces the traditional function keys!  The touch bar changes dynamically based on whatever you're doing at the time to show you relevant functions and controls - great! Although we don't have all the details as yet, Apple has indicated that the Touch bar will be customizable with commands relevant to certain applications such as Final Cut Pro and Logic.  In terms of music production and composition, this touch bar will have real potential as a transport control in DAW's!


    In terms of connectivity, the new MacBook Pros boast Apple's latest Thunderbolt 3 which combines ultra-high bandwidth within the industry standard USB-C port.  Yes, it's a different physical connection (sigh), but there are some big plusses.  For example, backward-compatibility with earlier versions of Thunderbolt, USB-C, and older versions of USB.  And, the cable is symmetrical so it doesn't even matter which way you plug it in - bonus!

    Here are some other things to consider:

    • The old Thunderbolt Mini DisplayPort has been discontinued in Thunderbolt 3 and now uses a USB-C connection type.
    • Both 13" and 15" models will only have Thunderbolt 3 connectivity (hubs and adapters will be required to use older style connections such as USB 2 and 3)
    • All Thunderbolt 3 cables will also work as USB-C cables...cool!
    • All USB-C cables will work as Thunderbolt 3 cables as long as they are high quality cables....also cool!
    • Thunderbolt 3 has a top data transfer speed of 40Gbps as long as the cable is 0.5 meters or shorter.
    • For 1 meter or longer cables, Thunderbolt 3 supports passive (cheaper) cables that have a top speed of 20Gbps, and active cables (more expensive) that retain the 40Gbps speed.
    • Thunderbolt 3 is backward-compatible with earlier versions of Thunderbolt, but due to the new port type, adapters are required to use legacy Thunderbolt devices.
    • Any USB-C deviceplugged into a Thunderbolt 3 port will function normally.
    • Since Thunderbolt 3 devices use discrete Thunderbolt chips to function, they will not function if plugged into a USB-C port.


    So, for those of you with music technology equipment wanting to upgrade to the new MacBook Pro, you should really first be checking compatibility with your existing gear.  For example, Audio Interfaces with older Thunderbolt 1 or 2 ports should have no problems using the Apple Thunderbolt 3 (USB-C) to Thunderbolt 2 Adapter (but check to make sure there are no known driver issues of course).  For USB audio interfaces, or connecting other USB devices such as MIDI controllers and keyboards, you could consider a USB-C hub such as the Belkin 4-Port Mini hub.  More hub varieties will surely be available soon enough with HDMI etc.  Sounds Easy supplies a number of hub options for Thunderbolt 3 connections - feel free to contact us if you need any advice.

    Another important thing to consider before upgrading your Mac is OS compatibility.  All new Macbook Pro's will ship with the new Mac OS X 10.12, Sierra Operating System pre-installed, so it's important to check whether your hardware and software will be compatible with the new OS.  Sierra is still quite new, so all hardware and software will not yet be officially supported.

    We will try to keep you updated with any major news regarding Mac OS compatibility as it becomes available to us.  In the meantime, be sure to keep checking for official driver releases, and noted compatibility issues at official manufacturer's websites.

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