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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34 Visitor comments
ms-20 fan
August 16, 2013 @ 10:30 pm
So let's see here: Plastic knobs like the original, check. Metal case like the original, check. Plastic end panels like the original, check. You are right! This is such a cheapo budget synth, just like the original was 30 years ago! Kind of funny how you "doubt that the original is a classic" then "seriously wonder WHY the classic, is one?" all within the same paragraph. It's obvious you've never played an original and don't know what you are talking about, so watch Marc Doty's (Automatic Gainsay) videos on YouTube. He knows the original inside out has given nothing but praise for the Mini.
Marc the Darc
August 16, 2013 @ 12:45 pm
Honestly i don't get the hype! Not by a longshot!
Even before touching on insanely poor built quality, the likes of which i have never seen before - it's Toys'r'us bad!!!
I don't doubt that the original is a classic used many cool ways, but this sounds pretty much as poor as it's built. The triangle wave sounds like a squashed sawtooth, NOT a triangle. The filter sounds like it goes up to 7-8KHz tops, making the sound devoid of real top-end life unless you crank the resonance.
There's plenty more that i can't fit here, so if this is a true MS-20, i seriously wonder WHY the classic, is one.
3mbalmer
August 12, 2013 @ 9:36 pm
Just a couple of years ago, as I was discovering analog synthesis, there were a few synths that were amazing and attainable at an affordable price (Juno-6 comes to mind), and others that I could only dream to own. The MS-20 was one of those synths that I thought I would never actually get my hands on. And now its here. An Analog beast that wont run you the cost of a European vacation! As noted already, the sound is there. I will say that the build quality is so-so; keys are fine, but those side panels are McDonald's toy plastic. Small complaint. Would LOVE to see Korg re-release the MS-50!
Legs
August 10, 2013 @ 2:18 pm
This is just brilliant - it's gritty and raw. My other analog equipment includes a Prophet (8), Mopho, Slim Phatty and JX3P but this is easily the most fun. The patch bay adds an incredible amount of possibilities but even without using it, dialling in a great sound is easy. This is a synth for sound creation, there is no memory, so you can't save, however it'll remember your last settings.
Some of the smaller knobs wobble a bit but its not a problem for me as I don't approach my gear like Frankenstein's monster.
Don't even compare with an original, it's like comparing new shoes with worn.
electrocrass
August 10, 2013 @ 12:29 pm
I played this side by side with my buddy's original with the Korg-35 filter and as the review says, the Mini IS an MS-20. Don't let some of the online reviews and comments fool you. There's complaints about the knobs being too wobbly, but they are good as any other modern Korg synth. The MS-2000 knobs felt the same and that cost TWICE as much when it came out. There's also people saying it's too noisy, but this is also how the original Korg-35 filter sounded. The noise is what allows it to self-oscillate and overdrive the sound as much as it does. It's part of what made the original so unique.
 
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  • The link above will take you to an eBay 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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