The Korg MS20 Mini – Raw, Gritty Sonic Possibilities!
With a design which was subsequently copied by Behringer with the K-2, the Korg MS 20 is another example of a vintage analogue synth which has been brought back in the 21st century due to it’s popularity and enduring appeal. The original MS 20 was released by Korg in 1978 and remained in production for five years until 1983. The MS 20 Mini is identical except for the fact it is 86% smaller, and now has a USB port and MIDI capabilities in order to fully integrate with modern music technology.
One of the charms of analogue synthesis is the amount of richness and complexity which goes into creating a sound. When the original MS 20 was developed, close attention was paid to non specification factors which went into influencing the end product, such as the transistor pairings, and the end result clearly showed this attention to detail and skilled craft. The philosophy behind the new MS 20 Mini is that everyone should have the ability to experience from-scratch analogue synthesis, getting involved in the magic of creating their very own sounds as opposed to simply using pre-sets. This start-from-scratch philosophy pairs well with the MS 20 Mini’s specs, as this is a monophonic, monotimbral synth with no inbuilt effects, velocity or aftertouch expression, or storage memory. In this case, less is more, and developers Fumio Mieda and Hiroaki Nishijima deliberately chose to leave out capabilities for the MS 20 mini to receive MIDI control data. What’s left is pure analog synthesis, encouraging the user to experiment more fully with the details of the parameters which are there.
Where Can I Buy A Korg MS20 Mini?
The MS 20’s specs are nevertheless impressive- if not in quantity, but in quality. Without effects, users have two VCOs per voice, one LFO, two high pass/low pass filters, two VCAs, and two envelopes. The MS 20 mini uses subtractive synthesis and has a 37 key keyboard and a patch-board to the right hand side of the control panel. In terms of design it is lightweight but sturdy, and although the keyboard may be slightly small for some players, it nevertheless has not detracted from the reception of the MS 20 Mini, as it has remained on the market since 2013 to great reviews after a wave of hype which reached both from those old enough to remember the original MS 20 to those who weren’t even born in the year of it’s release.
One of the bonuses of the MS 20 mini is the ability to connect- in theory at least- to any analogue sequencer with CV output and a trigger. The MS 20 mini’s external signal processer also allows for a wide range of possibilities as it can be driven with an external signal via the frequency-voltage converter, envelope follower, and gate extractor. When the outputs of the frequency voltage converter and the gate extractor are connected to the VCO’s CV input and the envelope generators trigger input respectively, the MS 20 mini can be played via another instrument or the user’s voice, allowing for endless possibilities onstage.
Aside from this, the specification details of it’s individual components are quietly pioneering for the time of the original MS 20’s release. The MS 20 and other Korg products before it gained some reputation for unusual naming practices on their control panels, although after time these became as much of a loved feature of the design as any other. In the MS 20 and MS 20 mini, the LFO is labelled ‘modulation generator’, and one of it’s controls- the shape control- allows users to change the shape of the wave on a fluid continuum of anything between upwards sawtooth to downwards sawtooth, with a square wave right in the middle. A very unusual feature at the date of it’s release and still relatively uncommon, this has been replicated in the MS 20 mini. The delicate nature of the 3.5mm jacks on the patchboard is important to be aware of, but if these are handled with care they should have no problem as overall it is a quality instrument. One last thing to note is that the MS 20 mini requires an external power supply, in this case a 1.7A DC supply.
How Much Does A Korg MS20 Mini Cost?
As a remake of a classic synth, the Korg MS 20 Mini can be bought directly from Korg’s website for £550. Other online music retailers such as Andertons and Thomann.de have the MS 20 Mini for a slightly lower price- in the upper 400s.
The MS 20 mini could also be bought second hand, and as a modern synth which is currently in production is will be potentially be easier to find online than some of the analogue classics which are no longer being manufactured. Musicians’ Facebook groups are another invaluable resource as often equipment is sold for much lower than its retail prices when studios are cleared out or people have to move.
Overall, the MS 20 Mini is relatively unique in being virtually identical to it’s classic forerunner with the added benefit of being on the market and easily obtainable. For a remake of a classic, it’s relatively well priced, as other synths with considerably less pedigree can go for much higher prices. If you are planning to invest in an MS 20, it is worth doing so in case it ever does go out of production again, as the Minimoog Model D has seen it’s price skyrocket after it’s run ended to the point that it is now only obtainable from one of Moog’s official Moog Dealers. That being said, the MS 20 consistently gets very strong reviews and is popular enough that demand is likely to keep it in action.
*prices generally seen on auction sites. If you see them cheaper, you may be on to a bargain.
Who Uses Or Used The Korg MS20 Mini?
If you do buy an MS 20 Mini, you will be in good company, as artists who use it or its predecessor include Aphex Twin, CHVRCHES, The Prodigy, Depeche Mode, Portishead, Snarky Puppy, Gorillaz, Goldfrapp, and Daft Punk, making it a truly versatile and much loved synth.
Alternatives To The Korg MS20 Mini?
There are many different alternatives to the Korg MS20 whether as hardware, software, analog or digital. These are as follows: Behringer K2, Korg MS10, Analogue Solutions Red Square, the Korg Legacy collection, Reaktor and other emulators, and VST’s.
However, when we compare it to the real thing it’s noticeable that the alternatives don’t quite stack up. They are a great option though for people with a lower budget.
Classic Korg MS20 Mini Videos, Tutorials & Demos
A playlist of videos showing you how to program a MS20, how to create your 1st patch as well as watching how the oscillators and patch panel works. Some great tips in here so be sure to check them out!
Other Classic Synth or Drum Machine Products?
The famous Roland synths, drum machines and effects include: SH 101, MC 202, TB 303, TR 606, TR 707, TR 808, TR 909, Juno 60, RE-201 Space Echo. Behringer Deepmind 12, Behringer K2, Behringer Model D, Elektron Machinedrum, Moog Model D, Moog Grandmother, Nord Modular G1, Oberheim OB-6, Sequential Prophet 6, Yamaha DX7.
Where Can I Find A Korg MS20 Mini For Sale?