Korg MS-20 mini

Korg MS-20 mini Image

Many of the iconic brands in this industry have attempted to release modern versions of synthesizers from their vintage series of the past, and most have failed to do it right (we're looking at you Roland!). Until now, that is.

Korg's most famous and coveted monophonic synthesizer is the MS-20, first introduced in 1978, and it has been reborn as the MS-20 mini. Korg enlisted the same engineers who designed the original MS-20 to recreate it in a body that is smaller by 86% of the original size, but looks and sounds the same. This is an authentic reproduction of the original specifications of the MS-20, and it delivers the same powerful sound, from deep, growling basses to crisp, rounded leads.

The MS-20 mini has the exact same synthesis as the original: two analog oscillators with ring modulation, and envelope generators with delay and hold. The VCA (Voltage Controlled Amp) maintains the original basic design, but has been modified to produce less noise.

Best of all, the powerful MS-20 filter is alive and well in the MS-20 mini, providing both high-pass and low-pass with peak/resonance. This is the same reincarnated version of the filter that was also used on Korg's Monotron and Monotribe. Of special note, half-way through the production lifecycle of the original MS-20, the filter circuit was changed; the MS-20 mini uses the earlier KORG35 filter circuit which has been considered the better version of the two.

Korg MS-20 mini Image

The ESP (External Signal Processor) allows external audio signals to be used with the MS-20 mini, just as the original allowed. For example, the pitch or volume of an external audio source could be used to control the synthesizer. The distinctive and flexible patching system enables the creation of complex sounds by allowing the rerouting of both modulation and audio (both the internal oscillators and external audio). Flow-charts printed on the front panel (meticulously reproduced from the original) help users of any experience level understand how to route signals and produce a variety of sound possibilities.

The most obvious difference between the Mini and the original, is the size. It is 86% of the original size, and the 37 keys of the keyboard are mini-keys. Patch cables/plugs have also been shrunk down from 1/4" phone-plugs to 1/8" mini-plugs. The other major difference is the MS-20 mini is equipped with a MIDI IN jack for receiving note messages, and a USB-MIDI connector that can transmit and receive note messages from a computer and/or external sequencer. It should be noted that the MS-20 mini only responds to note messages; controller changes were excluded from the MIDI spec because they would not give you the smooth, un-stepped parameter changes associated with actual hands-on knob tweaking.

Korg also packaged the MS-20 mini in a manner that replicates the original, and included the original MS-20 owner's manual and settings chart. Buyers of the MS-20 mini are not getting a run-of-the-mill Korg synthesizer exploiting the namesake of its vintage Icons. The MS-20 mini is an MS-20, inside and out, with the added MIDI and USB functionality needed to make it talk to modern studio equipment right out of the box. Amazingly, it lists for only $599 USD!

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32 Visitor comments
HnnH
April 4, 2014 @ 9:08 pm
skunk3 - the lack of midi control of dials allows for filter sweeps without the MIDI stepping issue common in modern analogs - it would also have been a huge deviation from the original synth's operation and Korg was aiming for a mostly accurate reissue.
skunk3
April 3, 2014 @ 10:20 am
I've had my MS-20 Mini for a few months now and I have to say that overall I like it quite a bit. The filters are just plain nasty (in a good way) and I love how ballsy and aggressive that synth can sound. The external signal processor rocks too. That said, it's not perfect. The noise definitely is noticeable, and I don't mind it that much since I like a bit of noise and grit in my tunes. What irritates me the most is that although this reissue does have MIDI in, there is no other MIDI functionality. Why can I not automate knob movements?! That would make the Mini sooooo much more powerful.
Ever isinv
January 15, 2014 @ 10:50 pm
I got my MS 20 mini three weeks after it came out (luck). This is the first monosynth I have ever owned. Yes, the build quality is probably not for a touring musician. It's a great stay in your studio synth. It isn't as noisy as people, Say it is, my MS anyway. I think it is excellent that you don't need any warm up time to play the mini. It is not for everyone, try before you buy, consider if you need portability, patch memory, smoother sounds without too much work, polyphony, etc... This synth takes me away from making music because I just keep on tweaking and tweaking.
Hannasdeli
December 28, 2013 @ 10:39 am
I bought one a few weeks ago. I love this synth. Build quality is not great, but the sound (specially the noise! I love it) is just amazing. Two saw waves slightly detuned and you have something great. Use the HPF with a lot of resonance and you are in DAF and Liaisons Dangereuses territory. The biggest downer is the envelope, strange, odd, not too fast. But for this price? It is amazing. I never dreamt I could be able to buy such a beast for a bit more than 500USD. I also own a Pulse and a Korg Z1 and this beast is alive, organic and brutal!
commodorejohn
December 21, 2013 @ 3:17 pm
@jab: There definitely is still noise; it's induced by the filter, which they didn't change because the Korg35 filter is one of the main reasons people liked the original MS-20. They did clean up the noise from the final-stage VCA (and presumably the patchable VCA as well.) Personally, I like the filter noise, it adds a characteristic grit to the sound - but diff'rent strokes, I guess.
 
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  • Check Prices on eBay
  • The link above will take you to a search for this synth to see active listings. If you don't find it there, try looking in our forum marketplace or post a wanted classified.
  • Specifications
  • Polyphony - Monophonic
  • Multitimbral - 1 Part
  • Oscillators - 2 VCOs. VCO1: Scale (32', 16', 8', 4'); VCO2: Scale (16', 8', 4', 2')
  • Waveforms - VCO1: Triangle, Sawtooth, PW-Square, White Noise; VCO2: Sawtooth, Square, Pulse, Ring modulator
  • LFO - 1 LFO: Positive Sawtooth - Triangle - Negative Sawtooth, Wide Pulse - Square - Narrow Pulse; Frequency (0.1Hz - 20Hz)
  • Modulation - _Description_
  • Filter - 1 Low pass VCF, 1 High pass VCF
  • Envelope - EG1: Attack, Decay, Release; EG2: Attack, Decay, Sustain, Release, Hold
  • Effects - Portamento
  • Sequencer - None
  • Arpeggiator - None
  • Keyboard - 37 mini-keys
  • Memory - None
  • Control - MIDI In, USB, CV Out, ENV Out, Trig Out
  • Weight - 4.8 kg / 10.58 lbs.
  • Date Produced - 2013
  • Resources & Credits
  • Original images from KORG USA.

    Reviewed August, 2013.

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