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7 Best DAWless Setups To Make Music Without A Computer

By Matthew Vultaggio

November 24, 2020

A DAWless setup is for you if you want to make music without having to endlessly stare at a computer screen or, if you simply would like to enjoy a ready-to-go setup that is fully dedicated to making music.

I’ve researched some of the best DAWless setups for the price that are available today.

It is easy for costs to get out of control so I made sure to find options that are highly flexible music creation tools that pack as much value as possible for the price.

ProductPurposeTypePrice
Elektron DigitaktSampler + DrumsBestCheck on Amazon
Korg Volca FMSynthesizerBestCheck on Amazon
Arturia KeystepControllerBestCheck on Amazon
Pocket Operator KO-33Sampler + DrumsBudgetCheck on Amazon
Korg Volca SampleSampler + DrumsBudgetCheck on Amazon
Novation CircuitEverythingAll-In-OneCheck on Amazon

So what should you look for in a DAWless setup?

These are the 3 main things you should look for in a DAWless setup:

  1. A decent cost. Music gear costs can really add up, so look for value.
  2. A high amount of flexibility. You should be able to make great music without any limitations.
  3. The ability to expand in the future. You want your setup to be able to grow with you over time.

In this article, I will be breaking down and rating these DAWless setups based on the above 3 categories.

If you’d like a comprehensive look into how to actually go DAWless and what you need, check out my article How To Go DAWless (The 3 Things You Need) for everything you need to know.

Best Overall DAWless Setup

The best overall DAWless setup has the combination of the Elektron Digitakt on sampling and drum duties, the Korg Volca FM handling synthesizer duties, and the Arturia Keystep controlling everything with a standard keyboard/piano layout.

The Digitakt is a highly praised sampler that is powerful because it can easily handle sampling and drum duties. Plus, you get all the coveted Elektron features like the Elektron sequencer, effects, and LFOs.

Although you can control the samples to create bass, pad, and lead sounds, the Digitakt is missing traditional synthesizer capabilities.

This is where the Volca FM comes in. FM synthesis is more powerful because it is flexible: you can get high-quality bass, pad, lead, and keyboard-style sounds out of this.

Pair this with the highly popular Arturia Keystep to control everything, and you’ve got yourself the best overall DAWless setup.

ProductPurposePrice
Elektron DigitaktSampler + DrumsCheck on Amazon
Korg Volca FMSynthesizerCheck on Amazon
Arturia KeystepControllerCheck on Amazon

Cost

You can get this entire setup for under $1000 and even less when these products go on sale. Be sure to check Amazon for up to date sale prices, particularly with the Korg Volca FM and Arturia Keystep. I noticed that Elektron gear does not go on sale as often though.

For a more budget version of this setup: you could start with the Elektron Digitakt and expand later when you are ready.

Flexibility

This setup is both extremely flexible and great to expand upon.

The Digitakt is a fantastic sequencer, so it can easily be used to sequence and control other music gear as your collection grows.

But even if you simply stick to this setup, there are an endless amount of possibilities when you combine the powerful sampling features of the Digitakt with the sound design potential of FM synthesis.

Why It’s A Great DAWless Setup

Pros:

  • Everything you need to make music without a computer
  • Extremely flexible
  • Easy to expand this setup over time

Cons

  • Can be expensive for a beginner
  • Not extremely portable

Best Budget DAWless Setup

If you want to start making music without a computer on a budget, then look no further than the Pocket Operator line of devices from Teenage Engineering.

To keep things as budget and beginner-friendly as possible, I had to find just one single device that would be capable of making a full song.

This is why the Pocket Operator KO-33 is the most recommended budget DAWless setup.

Because this device is ultimately a sampler, you can use it to sample drums, bass, leads, pads, chords, and vocals, and then sequence everything together to create a full song without the assistance of a computer.

ProductPurposePrice
Pocket Operator KO-33Sampler + DrumsCheck on Amazon

Cost

You can get yourself a brand new Teenage Engineering KO-33 for under $100. On top of this, they do go on sale quite often, so check the link above to see what the latest price is.

If you are okay getting one of these small but mighty warriors second-hand, it would be easy to pick one up used for under $50.

This is definitely the most budget possible way to go DAWless, and the entire Pocket Operator line is very much well-loved and praised by the music-making community.

Flexibility

Because this device is a sampler, it is quite flexible in what music it can produce. Simply import different samples whenever you want to change things up.

The entire Pocket Operator line can actually sync together if you want to go down the path of creating a miniature army of Pocket Operators. They can even sync with other gear (although it is a bit tricky) if you want to expand your setup beyond Pocket Operators.

Why It’s A Great DAWless Setup

Pros

  • Flexible sampling features
  • Extremely portable
  • Great place to start with computer-less music-making

Cons

  • Can be tricky to sync with other non-Pocket Operator gear

Best DAWless Setup For Under $300

If you have a bit more cash to spend and want to get yourself a setup with more than 1 device, the Korg Volca line of devices might just be right up your alley.

Volcas may not be pocket-sized, but they are still very small when compared to other drum machines and synthesizers. They are also very capable devices in their own right and play well with both other Volcas and other music gear.

For this setup, the Korg Volca Sample will handle sampling and drum duties, while the Korg Volca FM will handle bass, pads, and leads.

The Volca Sample is preferred over the dedicated Volca Drum so that you get the flexibility of sampling both melodic (chords, vocals, etc) and percussive elements (drums, kicks, snares, etc).

Howevre, if you really want a dedicated drum machine, be sure to check out the best drum machines for techno and underground house music.

Just like in the “best overall DAWless setup”, the Volca FM is chosen for its flexibility in sound design, thanks to it’s FM synthesis engine.

ProductPurposePrice
Korg Volca SampleSampler + DrumsCheck on Amazon
Korg Volca FMSynthesizerCheck on Amazon

Cost

You can get this Volca-based DAWless setup for around $250 – $300, depending on if there is a sale or not. It is common for these bad boys to go on sale, so make sure you watch the current sale price.

If you are okay with buying used, you may even be able to pick up this setup for closer to $200. New or used, this is a fantastic entry-level setup that anyone should consider.

Flexibility

You will get a pretty flexible setup in terms of sound design and general sonic possibilities. Sampling and FM synthesis is really a match made in heaven. However, the one con is that the keys on the Volca FM may be hard to play without an external MIDI controller (like the Arturia Keystep).

Just like with the Pocket Operator line of devices, there is a Korg Volca for just about anything you need. So expanding your setup with more Volcas will be a breeze.

Also, because Volca’s connect to other non-Volca gear a bit better than the Pocket Operators, it is easy for you to add a Volca to any setup you have or to expand your setup with non-Volca gear.

Why It’s A Great DAWless Setup

Pros

  • Flexible sampling features
  • Flexible sound design with FM synthesis
  • Lots of potential to expand upon this setup when you are ready

Cons

  • Volca FM may be hard to play if you are used to a traditional piano

Best All-In-One DAWless Setup

If you want everything you need to make music all inside of one box, then you will want to start looking into the wonderful world of groove boxes.

A groove box is a standalone piece of hardware that can handle sequencer, synthesizer, drum machine, and more duties all with one single box!

The best all-in-one groove box is definitely the Novation Circuit.

With this one device, you get 2-tracks of drums, 2-tracks of synths, a great sequencer, and built-in effects. On top of all that, it is battery powered and has a built-in speaker.

If you’re new to making music, you can actually set the key and scale of the song, and the pads will only play notes that are in key. Of course, you can simply play it in a standard chromatic mode like a traditional keyboard as well.

If you are looking to make music without a computer and without having to make multiple purchases and sync everything together, the Novation Circuit is a fantastic place to begin your journey into the world of DAWless music-making.

ProductPurposePrice
Novation CircuitSampler + Drums + SynthCheck on Amazon

Cost

You can grab yourself a Novation Circuit for between $250 and $350. These devices have been out for a few years now, so it is definitely quite easy to pick one up on the used market for under $200.

Flexibility

Because you get multiple tracks, the ability to import your own samples (I’d recommend checking out the best sample packs for deep house) and other people’s sound packs, the Novation Circuit is incredibly flexible in what it can output.

The community is quite large if you want don’t like the stock sounds, and you can actually access every little feature of the synth engine when you connect your Circuit to the computer.

The Circuit uses standard MIDI to connect and sync to other devices and is a fantastic “brain” for your setup. You can use the Circuit to sync up and control all the other devices in your DAWless setup by using the Circuit’s powerful sequencer and scale-mode feature.

Why It’s A Great DAWless Setup

Pros

  • Everything you need to make music in one box
  • Intuitive scale-mode
  • Portable and battery-powered
  • Built-in speaker

Cons

  • Synth engine can sound a bit cheesy

FAQ / Related Questions

What do I need to go DAWless?

The main 3 things you need to go DAWless is a synthesizer, sequencer/sampler, and drum machine. A DAWless setup can have more or fewer items depending on if you want your computer-free set up to be completely portable, more flexible, or have the ability to record.

Can you record music without a computer?

You can record music without a computer by sending synthesizers, drum machines and other instruments through a digital or tape sound recorder. A setup like this will allow you to record music without the help of a computer.

Good portable ways to make beats without a laptop?

The best portable way to make music without a laptop is to use battery-powered groove boxes. Some great examples include the Novation Circuit, Teenage Engineering OP-1, or MPC Live 2.

What does DAWless mean?

DAWless means to make music without a computer’s Digital Audio Workstation (DAW). Essentially making DAWless music means to make music without a computer.

The Bottom Line

Although there are several reasons to go DAWless, it is important to remember that you should consider cost, flexibility, and ability to expand in the future when looking to create your very own DAWless setup.

There is nothing worse than having a closet filled without devices you aren’t actually ever going to use, so making sure that each device you pick up is flexible in what it can do and how it can play nicely with others in the future.

One great thing about making music without a computer like this is that you can always expand upon your setup over time to build your very own ultimate DAWless setup (at that point you will need to know how to find the best mixer for DAWless setups).

If you want to learn more about what to look for when creating your own setup, I’d recommend checking out my articles on How To Go DAWless (The 3 Things You Need) and How To Make Beats Without A Computer (Beginner’s Guide) to get started.

Hopefully, you found this article helpful, and good luck with ditching the computer and going DAWless, my friend! 🙂

What Next?

Once you’ve got some jams under your belt, you might want to look into recording them and getting them up on streaming services like Spotify and Apple Music.

Thankfully, it is actually 100000X times easier to do this than it was 10 years ago.

Sure, when you look at how much Spotify pays per stream, it is not too much but it can definitely add up. Plus, it’s pretty cool to have your music available where everyone can hear it and it takes your musical project to the next level.

After recording and polishing up your DAWless jams, you will need what is called a “music distributor” to get your music uploaded to all the popular streaming services and stores.

My top suggestion for a music distributor is definitely DistroKid because you get unlimited song uploads for a small annual fee (it’s also what I personally use).

With that said, I’ve compared DK to other popular services if you would like to search around first to find the right digital distributor:

Or, if you would like a more detailed look into what DistroKid has to offer, you can check out my big fat DistroKid review. 🙂

P.S. If you also want to learn about music publishing and make sure that you are not leaving any money on the table with your music distribution setup, I’d recommend checking out these 2 articles:

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