Sonic LAB: Korg MS20 Mini Review

The same but different      03/05/13

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13:26 mins    

The legacy of the Korg MS20 is well documented - the screaming dual mode filters and semi patchable modular action have been used to create many signature sounds since it was introduced in 1977.

Korg's MS20 Mini rather shocked many as it is basically a carbon copy - where sourcing and legality of components allow (see our interview with Mr Mieda - original creator). There are two major differences, okay three..

One - it's 86% scale of the original, just a bit smaller with thinner not-quite-mini keys (no aftertouch :-), it has a MIDI and USB connection which allows you to play the thing from the DAW or external MIDI gear. The third thing is build quality, while the mini jacks feel solid enough, there is definitely some play in the knobs. This however is down to the bend in the pot shaft we're told - as the Alps pots are soldered onto the surface of the board and braced with a sort of metal collar that goes right through.

If your unfamiliar with the voice architecture of the MS20  here's a brief outline:

Two VCO's: VCO 1 -  Sine, Tri, Saw, Pulse and White noise (32/16/8/4 range) VCO 2 -  Saw , Square and thin Square plus Ring Mod (16/8/4/2 range) tunable +/- 5 semi-tones

Two filters High pass and Low pass are both resonant and scream like a banshee when cranked. A single LFO, two envelopes on HADSR (Hold, Attack, Decay, Sustain, Release), and DAR - (Delay, Attack,Release). Patchbay - gives access to some discrete semi modular patching plus Sample and Hold, White or Pink Noise, Pitch to voltage input with envelope follower.

I can testify that all this is exactly as it was on the original - warts and all. By which I mean, like the original you can't modulate the Pulse Width, you can't modulate VCO 1+2 separately or patch envelope 1 control out unless you want it inverse.

Of course these limitations are part of the charm of the original so it doesn't seem right to be overly critical of such an OAP.

Questions, Questions... Does it sound like the original? Yes it does, about as close as something can to electronics that are over 30 years old and have aged. But a remarkably good job.

What about MIDI? Very basic, note on/off are all that are supported, no controllers mapped to knobs - which don't output CC either, just a basic in and out. Keyboard transmits over MIDI but only note information.

CV/GATE Again, it's like the original - it talks in Hz/Volt  - not what most Eurorack equipment needs for Control Voltage of oscillators. This means no it wont interface with your Doepfer gear - but it will talk to an an MS20 (see the video).

Shame really, but as the internal synth operates this way, changing that would have meant it wasn't an MS20 I guess. Someone needs to make a cheap format convertor sharpish. Harvestman have the English Tear, and I believe Doepfer do something too.

USB Power? Nope, the unit requires 9v and comes with a power supply - USB does not have enough juice to power it.

Can I Buy One? Probably, though supplies are limited so perhaps not immediately, it retails for around £499/$599/€575.

Korg are making them as fast as they can, but it's a more complex process to make these than stamping out circuit boards we're told.

What Do I Think? Apart from the fact that my original is now worth less, Korg should be given kudos for remaking this - quite a challenge I imagine and resisting the temptation to put a GM bank in it or something shows excellent self control - though I would like to have seen PWM and V/Oct CV.

The choices in the sub £500 quid analog mono are hotting up, but nothing sounds like an MS20 apart from this and the original.

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28 Comments...  Post a comment    original story
S R D    Said...

I thought i was a "right clever clogs" when it came to analog gear, until i realised that the ms20 doesnt "do" PWM, which is remarkable considering it does so much more with ease. Anyhoo, The ms20 mini will sell truckloads and deservedly so , simply because it sounds, looks and just IS so great. A great review.

03-May-13 08:05 AM


BMeister    Said...

It's odd that you could indeed patch in PWM in the smaller MS-10. Not including that ability here in the MS20 mini, for the sake of replicating the original, is a pity. Surely, it couldn't have been that difficult to add.

I suspect those folks modding their Korg Monotrons and such may attempt a mod for the MS20 mini, and perhaps address the PWM and maybe even the incompatible CV voltage matter.

03-May-13 09:05 AM


Nick B    Said...

I spoke to Andy Emis at ths synth place in Brostol and he said you'd need a variac (not sure what that is) to be able to mod a parameter that wasn't designed to be CV controlled..

03-May-13 09:19 AM


Richard    Said...

Kinda surprised they didn't have a MIDI DIN out as well. I mean USB will become outdated someday. Still, a great way to get a new MS-20, props to Korg for taking the plunge! :D

03-May-13 10:13 AM


Icke    Said...

Was it a pro-production unit? The knobs at my machine are not that "wobbly" as shown here.

03-May-13 10:23 AM


brian from usa    Said...

"Kinda surprised they didn't have a MIDI DIN out as well."

Since many (most?) users will be computer based, USB out makes sense. Anyone using real MIDI cabling will own something with a better keyboard already.

03-May-13 01:18 PM


Fatdust    Said...

I just cant get why lots of you still complain about PWM. yes, its not there, but it is on other synths you got at home, and don't tell me that you need PWM for every sound you making. it is like saying that synth without moog ladder its not a synth. I would be happy if is there but i wont think if i want it or not because there is no PWM. thats just crazy and seems who is moaning about that is in a wrong game. you not gonna blame violin for lag 5 pole switch do you. why in the hell every synth got to have everything what you dream of? if somebody gonna make what I am dream of, its gonna cost slightly less than Buckingham palace without water bills. I mean... this is a best thing could ever happened to us (yet) and some of you still got issue with missing PWEM because they could and it wont be that big issue.... and blah blah blah blah... you know what. you can go and buy Virus and wank all over your self, but i wan to play with it, and play it and making new cables and trying to plug that to mooger foogers and to dark time and hook it uop with slim phatty and i just want to have a proper synth. it is as it is, its amazing. and this silly comments ... i think that loads of you just got through few blogs and magazines and crying what you read about but never experience lack of it. i mean.... Les Paul doesn't have floyd rose but you can try to explain to jimmy page or slash that LP its a shit guitar cos of that. in the end of a day nobody forcing you to think about it, I just cant get the fact that you would blame your new girl friend from not having big tits. not every girl is for everybody. at least if you not going out with hooker

03-May-13 02:26 PM


Fatdust    Said...

I just cant get why lots of you still complain about PWM. yes, its not there, but it is on other synths you got at home, and don't tell me that you need PWM for every sound you making. it is like saying that synth without moog ladder its not a synth. I would be happy if is there but i wont think if i want it or not because there is no PWM. thats just crazy and seems who is moaning about that is in a wrong game. you not gonna blame violin for lag 5 pole switch do you. why in the hell every synth got to have everything what you dream of? if somebody gonna make what I am dream of, its gonna cost slightly less than Buckingham palace without water bills. I mean... this is a best thing could ever happened to us (yet) and some of you still got issue with missing PWEM because they could and it wont be that big issue.... and blah blah blah blah... you know what. you can go and buy Virus and wank all over your self, but i wan to play with it, and play it and making new cables and trying to plug that to mooger foogers and to dark time and hook it uop with slim phatty and i just want to have a proper synth. it is as it is, its amazing. and this silly comments ... i think that loads of you just got through few blogs and magazines and crying what you read about but never experience lack of it. i mean.... Les Paul doesn't have floyd rose but you can try to explain to jimmy page or slash that LP its a shit guitar cos of that. in the end of a day nobody forcing you to think about it, I just cant get the fact that you would blame your new girl friend from not having big tits. not every girl is for everybody. at least if you not going out with hooker

03-May-13 02:26 PM


derek    Said...

"There is no doubt, there is a bit of wobble here..."

Well that'll keep the dubstep kids happy ;)

03-May-13 07:27 PM


Ted    Said...

It is possible to modulate pulse width on the MS-20 and the MS-20 Mini.

You need to route your fingers to the destination of the PW knob.

You can then modulate pulse width by turning the knob, though it is limited to a slow LFO-speed sine wave, you won't get anywhere close to FM.

The best part is the MS-20 is monophonic, so you don't lose any polyphony when modulating PW via the knob.

03-May-13 08:26 PM


Robert    Said...

Hmmm, if you're going to publish an article as an expert on the subject, why not take a moment for a quick search on hz/v to v/oct converters instead of writing, "I don't know what's out there," etc.?

https://www.google.com/search?q=hz/v+to+v/oct&ie=UTF-8&oe=UTF-8&hl=en&client=safari

04-May-13 01:03 AM


PJ 3rd    Said...

Thanks Nlick :)

04-May-13 04:06 AM


LogicProX    Said...

Why would Korg build a new MS20 when all they did is downgrade it? (ow wait thats not fair. It has extra patch cables and usb + midi.)

It doesn't sound the same, feel the same, looks the same. Its just cheap crap because a good new MS20 made with quality would easily sold as well. Its junk, milking from an old cow. Period. Don't buy it but buy a Moog Sub Phatty and see, feel, hear what a true analog synth should be about.

Sorry for the rant :p

04-May-13 05:47 AM


jags    Said...

I'm so excited for this thing! true analog fun :)

04-May-13 03:18 PM


chris    Said...

I wonder if the knob posts plastic vs metal? Also, I've noticed in most videos the reissues sounds less full and a bit flat in comparison to the original...almost like a soft synth. Anyone else agree?

04-May-13 05:55 PM


Saxifraga    Said...

I don´t get what is so special about this noisy thing. I can get a new Ultranova for that price. It must be pure sentimental attachment.

04-May-13 05:57 PM


Saxifraga    Said...

@LogicProX Don´t be sorry. It was pure logic that dictated your comment.

04-May-13 05:59 PM


Woo    Said...

Awesome, Nick. It does look like Korg has got the music-maker mindshare lately, form the Monotron to the 'tribe to affordable units like the Volca.

And if the ms-20 mini is as big of a hit as it appears to be I can imagine Korg making a more modern variant in a year or two..

04-May-13 07:43 PM


Benedict Johnson    Said...

Nowhere to hide when theres an oscilloscope watching you!

MS20 was always my favourite of the "bass" synths from Spectrasonics Trilian.

However, I'm pro-evolution. I'd have preferred vintage X with contemporary Y.

The patch-bay looks a little intimidating if you've never "patched" before...

05-May-13 05:04 AM


rezazel    Said...

The MS20 Legacy VST allowed for PW modulation :-) And that is a feature I really miss on the MS20 mini.

06-May-13 03:26 AM


GTRman    Said...

How many one voice synth can one own? Give me something new sounding and let the pass die peacefully. Just another $500.00 toy for the kiddies. Get one for half price on eBay in about 6 months just like the Minibrute.

06-May-13 09:22 AM


Spinkterbrain    Said...

I see there's still quite a few folks who are down on this synth.Non constructive & negative comments show a lack of imagination & appreciation for this exellent addition to the analogue market. If you don't like it or don't want it, get something else & stop wasting space here. I for one want an ms20 mini for all of its positive qualities. Also ,i have followed the stories & reviews since the ms20 mini was revealed at winter namm. I'm aware of its positives & its shortcomings & i can make an informed decision on my purchase.No bad can come from this & anyone comparing it to a moog (Oh, never heard that one before) should know that there are loads of people out there (me included) who have zero interest in owning a moog & there's more than one synth manufacturer out there.That's right, we're not all suckers who believe that spending top dollar automatically gets you the best !

06-May-13 04:04 PM


Dubkutter    Said...

http://mc202.com/synthesizers/korg-ms-02-manual/

Perhaps a mini of one of these too?

09-May-13 08:27 AM


J voos    Said...

Nick, Thanks for your review. I was wondering if you would view this as a good choice as a beginner synth for someone looking to learn about synths or would you go with a GAIA, doepfer, minibrute, sub phatty or another choice? I am a guitar player who wants to understand this stuff, and maybe get some useful effects out of it as well.

09-May-13 07:33 PM


EMwhite    Said...

If you look at is as a bigger / next step in the Monotribe-line, it might make everybody feel better, or at least different.

What if Korg had packaged it in more of Minibrute type of package (flat) with a patch bay across the back but with the Monotribe look and feel (controls and labeling) but it said nothing about MS20 except the rumor that it has the same sound engine as it.

Wouldn't be as many complaints. But maybe not as much interest either.

Either way, Korg can't win. But they have won, which is to say that they will sell ten thousand quickly. Just can't make everybody happy, I suppose.

13-May-13 09:25 AM


the other gaz    Said...

THANKS Nick, great review. Will show to my father who is still hoarding the ms20 he bought 30 years ago.

13-May-13 04:21 PM


Scott    Said...

"How many one voice synth can one own?"

Occam's razor: If you need more than one note at a time, maybe your composition is weak ;-)

Anyway, no one of these synths sounds like any of the others: Minimoog, Odyssey, Pro-One, EML 101, Polyvoks, SH101, CS30, MS20...

I guess all you really need is air, water, food and maybe some shelter... But you can never have too many monosynths!

31-May-13 01:42 AM


Synthtron    Said...

I got the MS-20 mini within the last week. I can confirm that the aynth is noisy as I have read on the internet.. I wonder why that was not mentioned in the review. Was the original MS-20 noisy too? I am curious why these would have noise since they are analog. My Arturia Mini and MicroBrutes are not noisy. I like the MS-20 Mini but do want to confirm it is somewhatnoisy.

21-Jan-14 07:27 PM


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