RAM speed DOES matter to some degree, but it will not make a huge difference in your music production experience, especially if you are new to music production or are on a budget. When mixing, I typically recommend my clients use 8GB of RAM or more because it helps with launching your favorite plugins when building the initial mix.
However, when it comes time for runtime processing power (especially when layering tracks) slower speeds can actually be beneficial. The reason for this is that slow RAM often makes for more efficient overclocking in order to achieve even faster-processing speeds in terms of MHz per pin or GHz in general.
Going from 1333MHz to 2000Mhz is much easier than going from 1600MHz to 2400Mhz. Why? 1333MHz is 667 million cycles per second while 2000MHz is only 500 million, 1600Mhz is 800mhz, and 2400MHz is 1000mhz. Thus, the latter two options would require more voltage to drive them faster than their slower brethren, which usually results in burning up the motherboard/CPU or completely frying them both.
Now that we’ve got some of the technical aspects out of the way let’s talk about practicality. Unless you are doing some serious production (mixing) with thousands of tracks, hundreds on virtual synths on top of massive drumsets, etc… The majority of CPUs on modern-day computers will be able to handle your workloads just fine.
Onboard sound cards are also becoming more and more efficient. Creative’s new Sound Blaster ZxR cards have a built-in sound card with a 600ohm headphone jack for example. Also, the number of VSTs being used per session is at an all-time high so their efficiency has increased as well.
To put it simply, you don’t need to buy the best CPU or RAM for music production anymore. In most cases, even if you’re on a budget just buy whatever fits your needs and leave some money left over for either a better motherboard or whatever else tickles your fancy that month.
With that said there are a few CPUs out there that will give you great track counts in most DAWs (such as Logic Pro X) without overclocking. An example of this is the Xeon family from Intel which has been widely used as a music production workhorse for 10 years or more. You can find these CPUs on eBay for relatively cheap and they will provide you with plenty of extra oomph when it comes to mixing.
If you plan on using a DAW such as Pro Tools, Reaper, etc…you may want to consider going with a higher TDP chip if possible instead of a low TDP chip since those types of programs require more power than your average DAW at run time due to huge track counts and/or HQ plugins being used.
In conclusion, my final words are this: don’t waste money on high-speed RAM unless you plan on running 10+ virtual synths with massive drumsets in your project. Interesting enough, I had big plans for taking on projects requiring that kind of power when I first began music production back in 2010…but my songs always ended up turning out to be more “radio-friendly” than not so 100% of the time I was able to mix them all within my CPU/RAM limitations without any problems.
You can basically say goodbye to some 2 hour+ rendering sessions if you do things this way, but then again you wouldn’t have quite as many plugin tracks in most cases either.
Finally, looking at my own studio PCs, they are both slightly overclocked but still rather budget CPUs by today’s standards (Xeon X5650 6 core Black Edition is about 6-8 years old now). You can probably fit two of these chips in a $700-$800 PC build and still have money left over for an SSD if you wanted to.
As long as your motherboard isn’t junked you should be good to go because the CPUs are basically bulletproof. My current “main” PC uses an overclocked Xeon X5650 (4GHz) with 16GB DDR3 RAM (1600MHz), which may sound like overkill but it works flawlessly if I need to run high track count mixing sessions.
It even handles many virtual instruments running at once like they aren’t there. For example, I’ll sometimes bounce down several different mixes into stems using this CPU without any problems… Even though my RAM is well below capacity in this case.
In all, you don’t need a high CPU/RAM if you plan on just getting a few VSTs in your project and that’s it. Just buy whatever fits your budget and leave money left over for other things.
The only time you should consider going the gaming route is if you’re doing video editing or graphics work too which can benefit from such systems (or want to do both audio AND video). Otherwise, music production doesn’t require much horsepower at all to get results, especially today.