Korg MS-20-Semi Modular Analog Synth
Monophonic Analog Synthesizer
The classic MS-20 - recreated in mini size! An analog synthesizer featuring the original circuitry from 1978
Korg’s MS-20 monophonic synthesizer, first introduced in 1978, is still a coveted instrument to this day, thanks to its thick, robust sound, its powerful, iconic analog filter, and its versatile patching options. Over 300,000 people have enjoyed the distinct MS-20 sounds from the original, from Korg’s MS-20 plug-in synth, or the iMS-20 iPad app. Today, the sounds of the MS-20 have been reborn in hardware, as the MS-20 Mini. The same engineers who developed the original MS-20 have perfectly reproduced its circuitry and fit into a body that’s been shrunk to 86% of the original size, yet retains the distinctive look of the original. The MS-20 mini will amaze you with its absolutely authentic analog synth sound.
Comments from the developers
Fifty years have passed since Korg was founded, and we have once again put our hand to an analog synthesizer. We took particular care to deliver smooth parameter adjustments, which are a distinctive feature of analog synthesizers. We also took special care to completely reproduce the original specifications of the MS-20. The analog circuits we designed 35 years ago still deliver the same unbeatable, powerful sound, from the ultra-low to the ultra-high range.
- Overseen by the engineers of the original MS-20, a complete replication of the original analog circuitry
- 2VCO / 2VCA / 2VCF / 2EG / 1LFO structure
- Self-oscillating high-pass / low-pass filters with distinctive distortion
- External signal processor (ESP)
- Extremely flexible patching system
- Miniature MS-20 that's 86% of the original size
- MIDI IN and USB connector
- Replicates every detail of the original, down to the package binding and the included manual
The Original Analog Circuitry
The MS-20 mini painstakingly replicates the original MS-20. A development team led by the original engineers themselves worked to recreate the original circuitry, and when it was necessary to substitute a part, these engineers made the decisions based on careful listening, in order to reproduce the original sound faithfully. In fact, the sound of the MS-20 mini has a somewhat bright and extreme quality to it because its sound is that of an original MS-20 in mint condition at the time it went on sale, before any of the components aged.
2VCO / 2VCF / 2VCA / 2EG / 1LFO structure
The MS-20 mini reproduces the distinctive synthesis of the MS-20; two oscillators with ring modulation, and envelope generators with hold and delay. The VCA maintains the basic design of the original, but it’s been modified to produce less noise than the original.
Self-oscillating high-pass/low-pass filters with distinctive distortion
One of the greatest characteristics of the MS-20 was its powerful filters, which provided resonance on both the high-pass and the low-pass. Maximizing the resonance would cause the filter to self-oscillate like an oscillator, producing a distinctive and dramatic tonal change that was acclaimed as inimitable, and was later used on the monotron and monotribe. The filter circuit was changed mid-way through the production lifecycle of the MS-20; the MS-20 mini uses the earlier filter, which was felt to be superior due to its more radical sound.
External signal processor (ESP) for processing an external signal
The ESP carries on the experimental spirit of MS-20; it allows you to use the pitch or volume of an external audio source to control the synthesizer. For example you can input an electric guitar and use the MS-20 mini as a guitar synthesizer, or input a mic and use it as a vocal synthesizer.
Extremely flexible patching system
The patching system provided to the right of the panel lets you create complex sounds by plugging-in cables to change the connections between the various units. The possibilities are limited only by the user's imagination; 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 that’s printed on the panel, even the beginner can start taking advantage of these possibilities right away.
86% of the Original Size
MS-20’s design concept started by borrowing from the vertical layout found on larger and more expensive modular synths of its time, and then creating a more portable, inexpensive, and eaier to use version.
To make it even more approachable, the MS-20 mini has been shrunk to 86% of the size of the original MS-20. In spite of its smaller size, meticulous care has been 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 is also 86% of the original size.
Replicates every details of the original
Our effort to remain faithful to the original is not limited to the unit itself. Even the package that contains the unit replicates the original as far as possible. Also included are the original MS-20 owner's manual and settings chart, explaining how to create sounds. Now you can experience the excitement of the MS20, just like it was during its original release in 1978.
MIDI IN and USB connectors
The MS-20 mini provides a MIDI IN jack for receiving note messages, and a USB-MIDI connector that can transmit and receive note messages. You can even connect the MS20 mini to your computer and play it from a sequencer.
Interview with the Developers of the "MS-20 MINI"
Tell us about the concept and development process - along with any interesting encounters you had - during your revival of the original MS-20.
Since the monotron and monotribe allowed us to give users of all ages and levels of musical experience the unique enjoyment of creating sounds with an analog synthesizer, we felt that our next step should be to provide a full-fledged analog synthesizer. The MS-20 is what immediately came to mind. The development of software instruments such as the iMS-20 had given us experience in how to convey the basic design and specifications of the MS series, and we had also heard requests for analog sound modules in the Korg Legacy Collection, so it was a clear and natural decision that we should start the development process. Developing the MS-20 mini brought to mind numerous memories from when we first developed the MS-20 thirty-five years ago. One particular memory was of our difficulties in deciding how to select transistors. Another interesting memory was when Gotthold Meyer from our German distributer (MUSIK MEYER Corporation) told us that the MS-20 could also be used as educational equipment for teaching science, and that we made an ultra-large MS-20 the size of a blackboard.
How is the MS-20 mini superior to the original MS-20?
We've added MIDI input and a USB port that were not available on the original MS-20, allowing the new model to be smoothly integrated into modern music production environments. Another advantage is that that it's slightly smaller than the original MS-20, saving space. In particular, the newly compact body is something you'll appreciate once you've used it.
Why did you decide on a body size that was 86% of the original MS-20?
We have great respect for the original MS-20, so we felt that it would be devaluing to make the new model exactly the same size as the original. That's why the size is different than the original. We also felt that it looked good in a slightly smaller size.
What gave you the most trouble when designing the MS-20 mini?
As with the original MS-20, there was much deliberation in deciding on the transistors. That's because the performance of an analog synthesizer is greatly affected by things that don't appear on the spec sheet, such as the pairing characteristics of the transistors, and their response and consistency in the micro-current domain.
Earlier and later models of the original MS-20 used different filters. Which filter did you select for the MS-20 mini?
The MS-20 uses the KORG35 circuit that was on the earlier version of MS-20. Preferences vary between users, but we felt that the earlier version of the filter created a sound that had a more distinctive presence, and thus it was the appropriate choice for this reincarnation.
Do you have plans to release circuit diagrams to users so that they can modify the MS-20 to support Hard Sync or Filter-FM, as you did for the monotribe?
As we did for the monotron and monotribe circuit diagrams, we will consider this if there is user demand. However, the MS-20 mini is more complex than the monotron and monotribe, so it will be more difficult to modify.
Can the MS-20 mini receive MIDI control data and respond to it?
Using coarse-resolution (128-step) MIDI data to control an analog synthesizer such as the MS-20 mini will not give you the smooth, un-stepped parameter changes that are characteristic of analog synthesizers, so from the design stage we made the decision to limit MIDI support to note data. This means that if you connect the MS-20 mini's MIDI input to the MIDI output of your keyboard or DAW, it will receive keyboard note data and produce sound in response. As developers, we want you to experience the unique enjoyment of analog synthesizers, so instead of using the parameters of the MS-20 mini via MIDI, we'd like you to use the instrument hands on in real-time and enjoy how the sound changes dynamically.
Do you have plans for reviving other MS series models in the future, such as the SQ-10 or the MS-50?
We want to give people who have never actually touched an analog synthesizer the chance of experiencing how much fun it can be. Just how necessary such a device would be in the present day is something that we'll decide after seeing the response from MS-20 mini users.
Finally, what do the two of you think is the greatest attraction to the MS-20 mini?
Very simply, it's a way to understand the origin of the synthesizer. As the developers, our wish is that the MS-20 mini will let you understand the enjoyment of creating your own sounds from scratch, rather than simply using ready-made sounds. Set it on your desk as your “go-to instrument”!