Korg MS-20 Mini
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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 Korg MS-20 mini is a semi-modular analog mono synth that has been one of the most sought after and replicated sounds specifically for its filter characteristics. Its sound potential can range from rich basslines to singing leads to all out sonic chaos. It patchable inputs and outputs can be very useful in a variety of situations whether it be processing external audio through its filter, extracting a gate from an audio signal, sending modulation to external gear, or converting voltage to hertz.
The MS-20 mini has two VCOs. The output of VCO1 can be set to triangle, sawtooth, adjustable-width pulse or white noise. The output of VCO2 can be set to sawtooth, square, rectangle or "ring mod" which is in fact an exclusive-OR between the pulse output of VCO1 and the square wave output of VCO2. Although the pulse width of VCO1 is adjustable, there is no voltage control for this parameter and as a result pulse width modulation is not possible. The VCOs have Hz/V voltage control inputs but note that oct/V scaling is available via judicious use of the "total" CV input socket.
There are two VCFs in series. The first is a 6 dB/oct   high-pass, the second a 12 dB/oct low-pass. Resonance ("peak" in Korg parlance) is adjustable but not voltage-controlled. Originally, the filters used Korg's proprietary [KORG-35] chip. Later, the filters were redesigned to use off-the-shelf LM13600 OTAs. MS-20 mini units fitted with LM13600 filters have a small daughter board; the front panel on such units often has a tell-tale mounting screw whose head is visible in the vicinity of the VCA block diagram.
The final component in the audio path is a VCA. It is a single-transistor design, based on a selected 2SC945 which is an NPN silicon device (equivalenced by 2N2222A according to the Towers' International Transistor Selector book, update 5 (ISBN 0-572-02121-6 90100)).
The MS-20 mini has a low frequency oscillator, labelled "modulation generator". It has two controls (rate and shape) and two outputs (pulse and sloped). The shape control was a rather unusual feature for the time. It affects the duty cycle of the pulse output and the shape of the sloped output. When the control is at the anticlockwise end, the pulse width is very high (pulse output stays high for most of the cycle) and the sloped output is an upward sawtooth wave. At the clockwise end, the pulse width is very low (pulse output stays low for most of the cycle) and the sloped output is a downward sawtooth wave. At midway, the pulse width is 50% (pulse output is a square wave) and the sloped output is a triangle wave. The pulse output is available through the patch panel. It is unipolar (0 or +5V) and suitable for triggering the S&H or the envelope generators. The sloped output is bipolar (-2.5V to +2.5V). Like the pulse output, it is available through a dedicated jack on the patch panel. It also feeds the top modulation bus and so can be used to modulate the frequency of the VCOs and the cutoff frequency of either or both VCF without patching. There are two envelope generators. EG1 has Delay, Attack, and Release parameters, whilst EG2 has Hold, Attack, Decay, Sustain and Release. The envelope generators have S-trig trigger inputs.
The MS-20 mini also includes a noise source (pink and white), a separate vactrol-based modulation VCA, a wheel controller, and a trigger button. It is possible to connect the MS-20 to a step sequencer, any midi device, and your computer via USB.
The MS-20 mini includes a frequency-voltage converter, envelope follower and gate extractor which can be used to drive it with an external signal. By connecting the output of the F-V converter to the CV input of the VCOs (VCO 1+2 CV IN) and the output of the gate extractor to the trigger input of the envelope generators (TRIG IN), the operator can play the MS-20 mini through his/her voice or another instrument. Instead of triggering the envelope generators, one can connect the output of the envelope follower to the main VCA's INITIAL GAIN input. In that mode of operation, the envelope generators are not used and the envelope of the MS-20 mini's output is simply that of the external signal.