It took me several years of buying and selling to find out what I like, but I finally have pretty much exactly what I want.
Elektron Analog Keys: Gives me analog poly, great sequencer and arranger functions, inputs, and most importantly access via OB for DAW use. Honestly one of the most underrated synths IMO, it just does so many things and the voice splitting and sequencer tracks make it very versatile.
Virus TI Keys: Massive multitimbral synth with eventide/strymon quality FX. It’s digital, and essentially a VST but for a Dawless setup it’s almost everything you could conceivably ask for. The TI integration is pretty much almost like Overbridge… but they developed this platform almost 15 years ago which is pretty crazy. There are so many FX and Mod options and you can easily create entire songs self contained in one synth.
JP-8000: I’m a diehard trance guy and have done many supersaw attempts on many different synths and VSTS, but nothing sounds like JP supersaw. Pretty much I use JP as a $1000 supersaw machine and I honestly just can’t live without that timbre. There is also a surprising amount of great performance features, extremely easy to use. Like various trance arp patterns, extremely easy to use 2 part upper and lower split/layer function, very well layed out controls on the front panel. The only thing that sucks is eventually it’s going to need capacitor repair as JPs notoriously tend to die if you don’t fix them.
Subsequent 37: Last for my synths is S37 which is my “Mono Synth” category. There are a few other things I could see myself swapping out for this slot, but I just can’t say no to a Moog. S37 is probably the best Moog I’ve owned in terms of functionality with the sequencer and modulation options. Out of every synth I have the raw oscs and filter just sounds the best even without any FX.
Digitakt: Been through a bunch of drum machines, Tempest, TR-8, TR-8S, Drumbrute, Electribe. Digitakt is just the best one. The design is elegant, it’s easy to see what I’m doing. It can operate as a brain for live with MIDI out. Easy recording via OB. Small and nice size for throwing in my backpack. Lots of weird glitchy janky little performance tweaks you can do.
Octatrack: Super useful. I usually use it as a live mixer, or for live resampling. The other main way I use it is by pre-preparing loop kits to build standalone sets on. I used to use it for drum samples, but with the Digitakt, I can set it to doing more octatrack things and let the Digitakt handle the mundane drums and one shots.
Analog Heat: Great box with a lot of functionality. I actually most often use this via OB for it’s different distortion algos. Extremely handy as you can even use multiple OB VST in a chain. For example Analog Keys, into Heat… all the while I can keep it slotted into my Dawless chain. People don’t seem to get this box, they just buy it because they think slapping clean boost on a master output will automagically make their shitty mix sound good, but that’s a total waste of this box. It has envelope follower, LFO, an ENTIRE MULTIMODE ANALOG FILTER BANK, MIDI inputs so you can send creative CCs to it in a Dawless setup. To buy it just to “make instruments sound better” is dumb. Either way great box and fulfills a lot of roles.
TB-3: My 303 of choice. I’ve tried most common 303 type boxes out there. I love the TB3 because it’s very easy to see and use in the dark. Scatter feature adds a lot to performance. There are many different types of sounds other than just 303 sounds. And the most important feature to me is the one button press randomization for both notes and accents/slides. This makes it incredibly easy to live improv into different patterns.
Eventide H9: Pretty much every VST effect you’d ever want in the smallest package possible. Super good to use with MIDI CCs. My only gripe is that it’s not as great to live tweak as a strymon, as the big knob makes it hard to do big 0%-100% type of knob tweaks. I’ve also had Bigsky and Timeline more than once… and I do prefer those but they are expensive and you can consolidate more effects into the eventide.
Alesis Strike Multipad: Big chonky live drumpad with lots of support for electronic sounds. It can be fun for an audience to actually see you banging stuff with a drumstick instead of just hunching over your invisible synths behind the desk. Good for big whooshes or splashes or vocal samples. Which is why I have this. Also, it makes for an incredibly convenient entire drum set to go to other people’s place and jam with. You can even plug in foot pedals for kick and hats.
Zoom Livetrak 12: Useful mixer with recording features built into every channel. There is one massive downside and that is that the preamps sound like total garbage and get subject to so much electrical interference. It’s not massively noticeable but it’s the best thing like it I can think to use and it’s doing it’s job.
Really Nice Compressor: Basically no reason not to have one of these. Self-Explanatory.
ELX Distressor: Most recent thing I have. Honestly can’t live without it… It gives you a whole bunch of options, different comp circuits. I used to want an LA2A or 1137 but the Distressor is just so versatile. No way I’m bringing this to a gig for a live setup but it’s fantastic for vocals and post-processing samples.