The Korg MS20-Mini Semi-Modular Analog Synth


Musician Based Gear Review Series

The Korg MS20-Mini

Worth every stinkin' penny

The Korg MS20-Mini semi-modular analog synthesizer is honestly, among my modest 7 machines or so, my current favorite and has captivated me since it’s purchase. It is a re-design of the Korg MS-20, the somewhat older analog synthesizer of nearly the same namesake. It’s filters wail. Patching capacity is incredibly powerful. And it’s ring modulation ability is downright wobbly. Do not underestimate this synth for a moment. It may not be the prettiest out there, but god damn does it get the job done.

Check out used ones before paying full freight on your synths!!!

Artists helping Artists

In my crusade towards Artists helping Artists, what is more helpful than an open and honest dialogue in the form of a good old Musician based gear review? In my book, it’s the best way to research whether a piece of equipment is worthwhile and suits your workflow. While the Korg MS20-Mini has some deficiencies, what instrument doesn’t? Read on to see whether this analog semi-modular synthesizer is intended for the sound you’re seeking. Only you can make the ultimate decision to take the leap here but I hope some of this intel will help someone out in that respect.

One Downside..

It has a fairly smooth touch to it. The keys could stand to be a little less chincy for the asking price. They're essentially the same type of keys you’re used to seeing on every MIDI controller. For the $450 I paid for it, I’d anticipate at least some heft to the weight of the keys. This is a tiny demerit for this device. The nuances are nothing earth shattering. A first world problem at best.

Not the best at tickling the ivories?

I suck at the keyboard. I’ll be the first to say it. I play keys like a monkey flinging it’s poo, flailing my arms around and stomping the keys in fifths to make it sound like I know what I’m doing. One thing I do have a fair understanding of is music theory. This is a natural combination of the two.

Since I suck at keys, it’s all about the knobs for me in that respect. Since I know how intervals work, it makes my desire to play around and experiment with those knobs all the more. Thanks to the Korg MS20-mini, my mediocre playing can sound like genuine music, so long as I keep a careful eye on how I adjust my parameters and stay in key along with the melody played.

Scared by the Idea of Patch Points and Controlled Voltages?

You should be ... At least a little bit.

I recall this being somewhat of a challenge upon purchasing this musical instrument. Unable to get the sound sources to ring out at all. Stomping away in anger. Throwing headphones at the console. It's like any other musical instrument; Frustrating as hell until one day it clicks in your head.

Not to boast, but I'm not exactly a chump when it comes to CV. I do get it... As much as I need to to get by, I'd like to think. Still, this threw me for quite the loop with the Korg MS20-Mini semi-modular analog synthesizer. The envelope generator, FM modulation and pitch bending are all cool enough staples on their own, what with the ability to subtly move knobs and still have massive effect. Factor in the patch bay and you can really kick some ass, but keep this in mind as you decide whether or not to purchase this semi-modular synthesizer. If controlled voltages and all the wiring, thinking and careful calculation which construct this equipment's soundscapes are not notions which interest you, you may want to move on to researching another piece of gear. The aforementioned items are staples and used more than frequently on this instrument. If you're looking to make electronic music with less of the electronic end being mixed in look into something simpler before purchasing this.

This piece of music gear is not necessarily out-of-the-box friendly (to those uninitiated). I have been researching and messing with controlled voltages for quite some time and even with prior knowledge I ended up putting this bad-boy on a shelf to be ignored for far too long. That was a wrong move.

Combining the Korg MS20-Mini with an SQ-1

Then – *BOOM* – one day it hits me like a mother fucking truck. I forget where I first heard of the SQ1 Step Sequencer but it has been a powerful tool in my arsenal since it came out of the box. It COMPLETELY makes up for my inability to play keys. Shoutouts to Korg for thinking like the every man! Joking aside, this brick sized doo-dad is easy to fit into any size studio (mine is a kitchen table, so you’re probably good). It’s, simply put, a badass sequencer. It does what it says it does and it does it well. There’s features I still don’t fully understand on it, but that’s half the fun anyway, eh?

Now that you have your SQ1 connected to your Korg MS20-mini you’ll find your eye wandering over to the right. Ohhhh, the patch bay. Pretty, isn’t it? With something controlling all your rhythmic and melodic parameters, it frees you up to schiz the fuck out of the MS20’s circuitry. All I’ll say about the patch bay here that you may not be able to find on your own is BUY MORE PATCH CABLES! The unit itself comes with 5. You will need more than 5. Trust me. Just get some extra patch cables.

Capacities for Modular System Additions

I'm not a Modular Synthesist, so please take this next portion with a bit of a grain of salt. To my understanding, despite it's bulky size and heft, it would suit a modular system well. If for nothing else than it's capability to create blaring noises and melodious progressions all at once. I wish I could find a link to it, but I can distinctly remember watching a YouTube video wherein a gentleman bashes off all of the physical keys with a hammer, wraps the console in duct tape and slides it directly into it's rack. Long short, this will meet your modular needs, so long as you have a hammer.

One Other Con worth Mentioning In Regards to the Korg MS20-Mini Semi-Modular Analog Synth . .

There is one large con to the Korg MS20-mini that simply cannot be avoided. My eyesight is awful. I can’t see in front of my face unless you’re about four inches or less away. Fortunately, that’s before correction. With correction I am 20/20. Still though, in low-light the Korg MS20-mini knobs are super hard to see. There’ s something off with the color schema and the white blends into the black too easily. With that said, I give this con a big ol’ mehhh, it’s fine. It’s a very first world problem as well.

Check the Resources section of the blog for some info I’ve posted about how to get your Korg MS20-mini rockin’ and rollin’, as always feel free to comment in that section of this article and I hope this write-up helped you in some way, shape or form. Thanks for reading!