For me the Korg MS20 was an iconic synthesiser and out of my reach as teenager not earning the sort of money required to procure one of those machines.
I was well aware of its capabilities, as I was with every synthesiser around in those times, from pouring over the specifications in the catalogues and reading all the magazines of the time, not to mention hearing it on those electro pop classics of the day. I particularly remember going to see Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark at the Demontfort Hall in Leicester around 1981. I think it was the Architecture and Morality tour and admiring there magnificent keyboard rigs on stage before the gig, along came a road to probably check the tunings and he pressed a key on the MS20 and out poured pure OMD, amazing how one note can sound so good, but in my memory it did.
I wanted a Korg MS20 badly, the sound was fantastic, it looked like no other synthesiser and being semi-modular, patching and expansions meant it was infinitely going to be brilliant.
Well, for people like me, something good happened, Korg decide to re build the MS20, using smaller surface mount components, and in a smaller case, but apart from that it’s almost the same. They even got many of the same team involved in the development of the original to work on this to maintain its authenticity. They even reprinted the original manual.
So here it is the reborn Korg MS20 Mini. First introduced in 1978 and now back to give the world that real authentic analog sound.
You get two oscillators, both switchable over four octaves, however the first one goes down to 32’ and up to 4’, while the second has the range 16’ to 2’. The first gives you triangle, sawtooth and variable pulse square waves, while the second gives you sawtooth, square, a fixed pulse wave and ring modulation. Oscillator 2 has a pitch control while oscillator 1 has a control to alter its pulse width. The first oscillator can also be switched to give a white noise output; both oscillators have level controls, so you’ve got some pretty good sound generators to start you off.
The first MS20’s had a different filter to the latter ones made and the MS20 mini has used the original filter as it was deemed to be the best. The oscillator’s first pass through a high pass filter and then a low pass filter, both have cut-off and resonance controls and both can have their resonance turned up to self-oscillate. Having the two type’s means you can also do band pass and band reject filtering which obviously adds to their versatility.
You have two envelope generators at your disposal. Envelope 1 has a delay control along with attack and release, while envelope 2 has attack, decay, sustain, release and a hold time control.
The low frequency oscillator on the MS20 is called the modulator. It has a frequency control and a more unusual waveform adjuster that alters the pulse width of the square and sweeps the triangle to ramp waves.
The patch panel was one of the things that appealed to me. While other synthesisers seemed limited by how you set the controls the MS20 meant you could override a lot of the pre-patching and experiment even more! You can process external signals to your heart’s content, not only that but the Korg will even convert the pitch to a control voltage and produce a voltage of its envelope.
The patch panel also contains a sample and hold circuit, which can be very useful for all sorts of effects along with a pink output from the noise generator, but the main use here, is that you get all sorts of stuff to patch into other stuff, inverted and otherwise. Thirty three sockets in all, of ins and outs to connect together as you see fit, oh and don’t forget you could use external things such as sequencers to modulate whatever you wanted and I think you can see where the fun is beginning to start! You also get ten patch chords to get you started.
For me the Mini MS20 is better than the original, although it has a slightly smaller mini keyboard, (its 86% the size of the original) it comes complete with a MIDI input and also a USB MIDI input/output, so you can play it from a full size Midi controller keyboard if you find the smaller one too much of a problem and of course you can sequence it from your computer now because of the built in MIDI and USB.
The Korg Ms20 Mini sounds fantastic; it’s almost indistinguishable from the original sonically. What was originally deemed as a failing for not sounding like a Moog Minimoog was eventually realised to be an advantage as it sounded different. If you’re unfamiliar with how the MS20 sounds check out YouTube and prepare to be impressed. You can produce all sorts of basses, leads, effects and just synthesiser sounds and all with that pure analog authenticity that you just can’t get from modelled.