The market is teeming with storage choices, from relatively modest 500GB to 2TB models, to multi-terabyte models with capacities reaching into the double digits.
But finding the best hard drive for music production can come with its own challenges… Thunderbolt? USB type-C? Solid-state? Transfer speeds? etc. And with hard drive storage being cheaper and more accessible than in the past, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t invest in a couple of external drives to back up your valuable data, archive your projects, or free up space on your internal drive.
So in this post, we’ll take a look at the top hard drives and solid state drives that you ought be using.
Top 5 External Storage Drives for Producers
Samsung Portable SSD T5
The Samsung T5 is one of the latest and most impressive SDDs, it’s known for fast transfer speeds and the durability to hold up against the most demanding environments. It is available in several colors and fits neatly into your pocket or purse, giving you dependable storage wherever you go.
Specs and features
The T5 uses Samsung’s V-NAND flash memory technology and has a USB 3.1 Gen 2 interface onboard. With transfer speeds of up to 540 MB/s, it is 4.9 times faster than comparable HDDs. Large project files, multi-gigabyte audio, high-resolution photos, and even 4K videos transfer within minutes, so you don’t have to spend a lot of time backing up and archiving your precious data.
The fast transfer speed translates to smooth and effortless streaming as well. If you don’t want to clog up your computer’s internal drive with gigs and gigs of sample libraries, you can stream them from the T5 without so much as a hiccup. Of course, you do need to have a USB 3.1 Gen 2 port on your computer and enable UASP mode. But once you set everything up, you can pretty much rely on the T5 to stream your audio flawlessly.
Like all SDDs, the T5 does not have moving parts, which goes a long way in ensuring durability and reliability. Even so, the circuitry is protected by a sturdy metal casing that has been drop-tested from a height of two meters. Unless you are in the habit of drop-kicking your external drives, it’s safe to say that the T5 will handle even the most rigorous studio use.
The T5 is compatible with Macs and PCs, and even smartphones and gaming consoles. It comes with USB Type-C to C and USB Type-C to A cables for maximum connectivity options.
Music producers find the T5 to be an excellent budget-friendly storage option. Some have purchased it thinking that they would get only a minimal speed boost but were surprised to see how much it shortened loading times. The performance boost was even more noticeable when loading up large project files from the drive.
With a maximum capacity of 2TB, the Samsung T5 isn’t the largest drive around. Nevertheless, the speed and performance make up for the somewhat modest space, and it is inexpensive enough so that you could get a few for backup and archiving purposes.
Watch the Demo
Glyph StudioRAID Thunderbolt 2
The Glyph StudioRAID Thunderbolt 2 is billed as a “production-grade” external raid hard drive, which is intended to speed up and enhance workflow. Quite an excellent choice for studio musicians, video editors, and anyone that needs rugged and reliable storage, the Glyph StudioRAID is especially suitable for backing up large DAW files, rendered audio, and humongous sample libraries.
Specs and features
The Glyph StudioRAID supports Thunderbolt 2, which gives you a comfortable level of future-proofing. It also has USB 3.0 connectivity, so it will work with a wide variety of devices and configurations. But what really speeds up its performance is the support for current hardware RAID modes, including 1, 0, JBOD, and SPAN. This versatility gives you quick and seamless access to your digital library.
Right out of the box, the Glyph StudioRAID is formatted for HFS+ with Journaling and Time Machine compatibility. If you are planning on using it on a Windows machine, you simply have to reformat the drive beforehand, which should take only a few minutes at most.
Like all respectable external hard drives, the Glyph StudioRAID comes in a robust metal enclosure, which protects it against the most determined bumps and jostles. It also has a built-in heavy-duty power supply and auto-sensing power feature, so you can pretty much just plug it in and get to work.
Other features include a soft-touch power switch and disk health monitoring. The Glyph StudioRAID supports drive capacities from 2TB to 28TB, so you can choose from cost-effective storage to near-limitless capacity.
Users of the StudioRAID have a great deal of confidence in Glyph, considering the company is one of the few that makes storage devices specifically for studio professionals. In most cases, the StudioRAID outperformed the closest competitor by a wide margin, streaming as much as 350MB per second. For handling multiple audio streams, the Glyph StudioRAID has proven to be unbeatable for many users.
The Glyph StudioRAID is admittedly a bit expensive, but you can’t put a price on quality. Everything about the unit is noticeably high-quality, from the performance to the all-metal enclosure. If you want a dependable storage device that you can rely on for years, the StudioRAID is a great choice.
Watch the Demo
Glyph Atom SSD 1TB USB-C
If your needs are more modest, the Glyph Atom SSD is an excellent alternative to the monstrous multi-terabyte drives currently flooding the market. Offering up to 2TB of storage, it is better suited for transferring files and taking them on-the-go rather than archiving and sound library streaming. Even so, the Atom’s features and trademark performance capabilities make it an essential studio tool that will find plenty of use in your rig.
Specs and features
Like its bigger brother, the Glyph StudioRAID, the minuscule Atom boasts of Thunderbolt 3 capability and USB-C 3.1 Generation 2 compatibility. It is also HFS+ preformatted right out of the box, with Journaling and Time Machine support. Like the StudioRAID, a quick reformat is all it takes to get it communicating with your Windows machine.
Where the Atom differs is in its form factor. Amazingly compact and lightweight, this will hardly take up any space on your desktop, sitting unobtrusively next to your studio computer. But even with its minute dimensions, the Atom delivers impressive performance, streaming data at a blinding rate of 560MB per second. You could easily drag and drop gigabytes of audio files to it all day and not lose precious minutes in the studio.
The Atom comes in an all-aluminum enclosure, which provides sufficient protection under most conditions. It is bus-powered too so you won’t have to wrestle with a bulky, space-eating power supply. And for maximum connectivity, the Atom comes with a USB-C to USB-C (3.1) and a USB-C to USB 3.0 cable.
The Atom is available in capacities from 250GB to 2TB.
Unsurprisingly, most users of the Atom find it to be just as impressive as its bigger capacity brothers. Many are especially impressed at how much power and performance they can harness with a single USB cable, with no power supply in sight. As expected, the Atom is totally silent, and many users report being unaware that it is on if not for the bright LED light. Audio and video work is notoriously demanding on hard drives, but the Atom keeps up like a champ.
The Atom is a cost-effective solution for most storage and data transferring needs. It is inexpensive enough that you could simply purchase one for every major project you are working on. This is often preferable to relying on larger drives that could fail and take all your data with them.
LaCie Rugged Thunderbolt USB 3.0
LaCie has long been known for its reliability and performance, and the aptly-named Rugged is no different. Upholding the proud LaCie tradition admirably, the Rugged is the near-perfect solution for most every data storage need in the modern music production studio. With features such as USB 3.0 and Thunderbolt connectivity, the Rugged is well up the challenge of the most demanding music applications.
Specs and features
LaCie proudly proclaims the Rugged to be one of the fastest bus-powered storage devices currently available. This claim is no idle boast, as the USB 3.0 and Thunderbolt connectivity allows you to stream huge audio and video files without a hitch. In fact, the Rugged is designed to give you the perfect balance between speed, durability, and mobility.
The durability comes into play with the Rugged’s ability to withstand drops from up to two meters, which should cover most typical studio situations. The drive also has IP 54-level protection against water and dust, so you can be sure that your data will remain intact even if you subject your equipment to rough and rugged road conditions.
The availability of USB 3.0 and Thunderbolt ports also ensures maximum compatibility with Macs and PCs. Whether you are looking for additional storage for your laptop or a quick and easy way to transfer files between remote computers, the Rugged is an ideal solution.
LaCie has seen fit to integrate the Thunderbolt cable into the drive’s casing, so it is always there when you need it. A seemingly minor innovation to be sure, but it does help you avoid having to hunt for a Thunderbolt cable, which isn’t currently ubiquitous in many studios yet.
LaCie drives tend to attract serious studio professionals in the video and audio industries. The Rugged certainly doesn’t disappoint, with its fast and reliable performance in a portable and convenient form factor. In numerous real-world test scenarios, the Rugged has consistently proven its ability to mount quickly and stream data without issues.
The LaCie Rugged ticks all the boxes when it comes to reliable and convenient storage. It also comes with an attractive price tag, making it worthy of serious consideration for anyone looking for an inexpensive but dependable external hard drive.
Watch the Demo
G-Technology 1TB G-DRIVE
G-Technology’s G-DRIVE delivers all the reliability and performance you would expect from a state-of-the-art SSD drive at a price that won’t break the bank. One of the most rugged external drives you will find at this price point, it even measures up against costlier models with its modern connectivity and data protection features.
Specs and features
With transfer speeds of up to 560MB per second, the G-DRIVE easily measures up to the demands of modern audio and video production environments. Even the largest data files zip back and forth within minutes, so you don’t have to waste too much time on the necessary-but-tedious tasks of backing up and archiving.
The G-DRIVE has a USB-C port with support for USB 3.1 Gen 2 interfaces, ensuring compatibility with a wide range of desktop and laptop computers.
So far, so good. But where the G-DRIVE really leaves the competition behind is in its innovative data and mechanism protection features that ensure the utmost integrity of your file content. While most external drives are drop-tested to a height of two meters, the G-DRIVE is tested for three-meter drop protection. It also has a 1,000-pound crushproof rating and has IP67 protection against water and dust.
Enclosing the drive is an aluminum core casing that prevents overheating even at peak performance. This casing also serves to insulate the drive when it isn’t being used.
The G-DRIVE is available in capacities ranging from 500GB to 2TB.
Many users found the G-DRIVE to be even faster than other higher-spec’d drives with similar capacities. The difference isn’t night and day, but it does give many users a sense of gratification knowing that superior performance is available at a slightly lower cost from a lesser-known brand.
The G-DRIVE’s small form factor also scored points among home studio owners who don’t have a lot of desk space to spare. And with its proven protection features, the G-DRIVE is even well-suited for the demands of the road.
Ruggedness and reliability are what the G-DRIVE is all about, and it even delivers admirably in terms of speed. At this price point, the market is pretty much crowded with excellent external drive options. Even so, the G-DRIVE has what it takes to make it a serious contender.
How to Choose the Best External Storage Drive?
HDD vs. SDD
When choosing an external drive, the choice often comes down to hard disk drives (HDDs) or solid-state drives (SDDs). The traditional option is HDDs, which are cheaper and come with larger storage capacities. The downside is that HDDs are much more prone to damage when dropped or bumped, which could result in data loss. They are also heavier than SDDs, consume more energy, and have shorter lifespans. Even so, a good HDD from a reputable manufacturer should last for many years if you take good care of it.
SSDs are capable of faster performance, although this usually isn’t a crucial factor for external drives. The best HDDs should be able to stream large audio files and sample libraries just fine for most purposes. In any case, SDDs generally have longer lifespans than HDDs. They are also lighter and run cooler. On the downside, they are more expensive than HDDs, especially when you go for multi-terabyte models.
Size and form factor
HDDs typically come in 3.5-inch and 2.5-inch sizes. Most external drives that come in dedicated enclosures contain 2.5” drives, such as the ones commonly used in laptops. You could, of course, purchase either a 3.5” or a 2.5” drive and place it in a suitable enclosure. This is usually a more cost-effective alternative to buying an external drive that comes in a dedicated enclosure, and you have a wider variety of disk capacities to choose from.
Traditionally, the main difference between the two form factors is that 3.5” HDDs can hold much more data. But this isn’t necessarily the case anymore, as recent advances in technology have made it possible to store close to an equivalent amount of data in a 2.5” drive. One thing that hasn’t changed though is that most 3.5” external drives still require a dedicated power supply, while most 2.5” drives can be powered off a USB port.
All external drives connect to your computer via USB cables, whether they are HDDs or SSDs. But even USB connectors come in a few different types. Most older drives use Mini-B USB cables, which only works with USB 1.1 and USB 2.0 ports and devices.
The newer standard is Micro-B, which works with USB 3.0. Keep in mind that this cable isn’t backward compatible with USB 1.1 or 2.0.
There is also a Type-C USB cable, which supports USB 3.0, as well as all earlier USB versions. An added benefit is that you can insert this type of cable in any direction, so you won’t have to keep flipping the connector over to plug your external hard drive in!
Newer Type-C USB connectors work with Thunderbolt technology, which was initially compatible only with Apple devices. Thunderbolt 3 is now compatible with PCs, but keep in mind that while Thunderbolt devices work with all Type-C USB connectors, not all Type-C connectors support Thunderbolt.
If you want to future-proof your storage capabilities, you should, at the very least, go for an external drive that has a Type-C connector. Better still, look into a hard drive that supports Thunderbolt technology.
The largest capacity HDDs you could get go up to 12TB or more. There are even larger capacity drives that can go up to 15 or 16TB, but these are generally intended for enterprise applications.
SDD drives were initially limited to smaller capacities, but you can now find SSDs capable of multi-terabyte storage. There is even an SSD that stores as much as 16TB of data, but as with HDDs, these are better suited for enterprise applications.
In any case, it is generally a good idea to go for external drives in the 4TB to 8TB range and divide your data between a few of them. This will provide you with enough storage space for all your projects, sample libraries, and backups, without costing you too much money. And with relatively smaller drives, there is less risk of losing all your data to a damaged single drive.
Transfer speed is an important concern if you plan on streaming audio files, samples, and sample libraries from your external hard drive. A 7200 RPM drive will allow you to stream data much faster and with fewer hiccups than a 5400 RPM drive.
Transfer speed is less of an issue if you are planning on using your external drive only for backing up project files. Even so, it is probably best to go with a 7200 RPM drive as the cost difference over a 5400 RPM drive is marginal.
One other aspect you should look into is failure rate. SDDs do not have any moving parts, so they would theoretically last longer than HDDs. But if you plan on using your external drive only for backups and archives and don’t run it continuously, you should be able to get many years of use out of it before you have to think about looking for a replacement.