New sounds with old designs- Korg MS20 mini

Those that follow me on twitter and facebook will know I’ve finally got a Korg MS20 mini- having wanting one in my studio since long selling my second hand original in 1987, for a fraction of what they go for on Ebay (or at least before the reissue mini went into production). So over Easter I purchased the new (old) toy and fast went of in search of all the wobbly sounds I used to make back in the day.


First thing is the new mini design is actually quite handy in the small cluttered studio space I work in, and with the MIDI note in, if I felt the 3/4 size keys were going to be an issue, I can plug in my 61 note, full sized controller keyboards. In reality they’re not too bad as it goes (bear in mind its a monophonic synth). The patch sockets are 1/8th size (same as eurorack gear) and you get 10 patch leads with it, The one point that slightly concerns me is the wall brick- hopefully replacements will be obtainable, as it looks a bit fragile and it might not last a lot of gigging. Other reviews have also pointed out the sideways wobble on the knobs, but to be fair mine are not too bad, but again, dont chuck it around haphazardly.

Monophonic and no presets

Like a good few analogue synths its monophonic (plays only one note at a time)- the strengths of this are often that the single note sounds are so powerful they’re great to solo with- and creatively a good few acoustic instruments are monophonic- so making good use of arpeggios and counterpoint will give a lot of scope, especially as in the age of computers its very easy and cheap to multitrack many times (unlike when I had the original, the best within my budget was a 4 track cassette portastudio). There are no presets, its a box of knobs with keys and jack sockets. This is good, it makes you learn the instrument and find your own personal sounds with it- its not a hard learning curve as it will work without any patching (only semi modular) and its expandable with sequencers etc, (though be careful to note the CV control voltage is different from the common 1v/oct- and converters may be needed with some kit) but it does have MIDI in and USB in, so that can be got round for pitch at least)


I purchased this mid project for my next album for Xylem records ,and of course, have used it exclusively on one track already. However there are some examples here.

1. Multitracked with heavy reverb (ableton live) to make pad sounds

2. Multitracked in counterpoint for album track

Four tracks of MS20 were used on this


3. Sampled and used as sound source for sampler (“simpler”) in Ableton live

(The original sample is played first followed by the sampler)


Conclusions so far:

I think this version sounds better than my original as I remember it- possibly because mine being secondhand probably needed some work- and also when the MS20 was first in production they changed the design of filters halfway though its life, leading to a basic change in sound. Its a powerful, naturally aggressive sound, which can be easily tamed if required in the DAW with a bit of EQ, but to be honest, Ive not done that, only added reverb. The uniqueness of this 36 year old design is still offering up all sorts of interesting possibilities-two oscillators (32′ to 4′ and 16′ to 2′), two filters (lowpass and highpass with resonances, which are much loved) Sample & hold, two envelope generators, a separate, patchable VCA, a unique external signal processor, with a quicky audio to CV converter (which can generate some really odd results) and patchable white and pink noise (one additional white noise available on oscillator 1) plus a pseudo ring modular on Oscillator 2 make this a much sought-after instrument for sound design, and for polyphony, sample it!







About stuartrussellcomposer

Composer/ sound artist. Electronic musician. Modern classical composer
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