Korg announces MS-20 mini, we go hands and ears-on (video)

Korg has a string of classic sound-making machines that bear its name. One of the most well regarded would be the MS-20 analog synth that first landed in 1978. But that's no good to you right here in 2013 is it? Well, funnily enough, the kind folk at Korg realised this, and decided to relaunch it, updated for the modern musician. The MS-20 mini is, as you might surmise, a smaller version of the classic, measuring in at 86 percent the size of the original. It also looks like as much of the character that made the MS-20 sing to people's hearts has been carried over as possible. The mini was developed by the same engineers, has the same synthesis set up (two oscillators, ring modulation, VCA design etc) complete with manual cable-patching system (which is now 3.5mm rather than 1/4-inch). There is one modern addition, and that is a USB-MIDI jack around the back, letting you plug in to your favorite DAW / sequencing software through the more contemporary connection -- should you prefer that over the good old 5-pin MIDI (which is still an option). As we're right here at NAMM, we took a stroll over to the Korg booth to take a look for ourselves. Head past the break to see / hear more.

Undoubtedly, the MS-20 mini looks like the real deal. Although smaller second time around, it's still a good size, and big enough for competent keyboard players to do their thing. The knobs and pots felt surprisingly plasticky, but the rest of the machine seems robust and well made. It's hard not to get sucked in to the whole vintage detail, especially the patch bay on the right hand side. The action on the keys feels good and responsive, and those dials should be able to take some vigorous use -- ideal for live performances. The sound it generates will definitely please fans of analog synths, and we even caught Deadmau5 making an appearance at the booth to check it out. So, if you'd like to upgrade from that iPad app version, to the real deal, you should be able to do so in spring, for an expected $599. Want to hear how it sounds? Jump on the video below for the quick demo. Full press release comes after that.

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Korg USA Announces MS-20 mini - Korg's classic MS-20 is recreated in mini size -

WINTER NAMM, ANAHEIM, CALIFORNIA, January 24th, 2013 – Korg's MS-20 monophonic synthesizer, first introduced in 1978, is still coveted to this day for its thick, robust sound, powerful, iconic analog filter, and versatile patching options. It has now been reborn in hardware, as the new MS-20 mini. The same engineers who developed the original MS-20 have perfectly reproduced it in a body that's been shrunk to 86% of the original size, yet retains the distinctive look of the original.

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, to deliver the same powerful sound, from deep, growling basses to crisp, rounded leads.

One of the most well-known – and still most sought after - characteristics of the original MS-20 was its powerful filters, which provided both high-pass and low-pass with peak/resonance. Maximizing the peak/resonance would cause the filter to self-oscillate; producing a distinctive and dramatic tonal change that was acclaimed as inimitable, and was used many years later on Korg's 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.
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 meticulous 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 is also 86% of the original size.

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.

For added authenticity, the MS-20 mini packaging replicates much of the original. Also included are the original MS-20 owner's manual and settings chart.

Billy Steele contributed to this report.