Korg MS-20 Mini – 2013 Gear Of The Year Award Winner – Best Sub $1000 Hardware Synth
Korg came into 2013 swinging with the announcement of the MS-20 Mini monophonic synthesizer. Long dormant with non-inspirational offerings, the Mini showcased good things to come from the iconic Japanese concern. First introduced in 1978, the MS-20 has been rebooted as the mini by same engineers who developed the original MS-20. It retains the distinctive look of the original, and the same thick, powerful sound thanks to its analog filter and versatile patching options, but is now housed in a much more compact chassis.
The MS-20 Mini offers the same distinctive synthesis that made the original MS-20 popular: two oscillators with ring modulation, and envelope generators with delay and hold. The VCA (Voltage Controlled Amp) maintains the original basic design, but it’s been modified to produce less noise. Particular attention has also been paid to delivering smooth parameter adjustments, which are a distinctive feature of analog synthesizers. Special care was also taken to completely reproduce the original specifications of the MS-20, including the retention of the earlier, “more radical” filter.
The ESP (External Signal Processor) functionality carries on the experimental spirit of MS-20, allowing users to utilize the pitch or volume of an external audio source to control the synthesizer. For example, an electric guitar can be used as an input signal, and the MS-20 mini can be used as a guitar synthesizer, or the mic input can allow it to be used it as a vocal synthesizer.
The patching system enables the creation of complex sounds by allowing the rerouting of both modulation and audio (both the internal oscillators and external audio). Different combinations of the modulation input/output and trigger, sample and hold, and noise generator can produce an incredible variety of sounds. By patching according to the MS-20 flow chart printed on the panel, musicians of all levels can take advantage of these possibilities right away.
To make it even more approachable, the MS-20 mini has been shrunk to 86% of the size of the original, with care taken to accurately reproduce the knob design and the printing. The patch cables have been changed from 1/4″ phone plugs to mini-plugs, and the newly-designed keyboard has been reduced to compliment the smaller size as well. 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. Users can also connect the MS20 mini to a computer and play it from an external sequencer.
The Korg MS-20 Mini costs $860.00 ($599.00 Street) and is available now.