Ask any serious fetishist their Top 10 list of synthesisers they would love to own and all but the most awkward will list the Korg MS20 in a very high position. However, owning one of these classics is a costly endeavour, assuming one can be found at all. But now thanks largely to the rising popularity of hardware synthesisers within the production community it is possible to own a brand-new MS20 Mini, which is a faithful recreation of the Korg MS20, for a fraction of the cost of the original.
When creating the MS20 Mini Korg have clearly tried to stay as close to the original design as they possibly can, both athletically and at the electronic component level. However, this is not a truly faithful reproduction of the original: the size is smaller and given the age of the original MS20, not all of the original components are available, so modern replacements have been substituted. But make no mistake — the sound and character of the MS20 is unmistakably there.
The reduced size is actually an advantage, especially when taking this beast on the road, and the modern manufacturing process along with the rather excellent build quality will ensure the MS20 Mini will be around for many years to come.
The sound of the MS20 Mini is extremely close to the original MS20 synthesiser, with the same chunky VCOs that can produce heavy basses and cutting leads. The low-pass and high-pass filters are fantastic and can be overdriven as well as made to self-oscillate, and completely reflect the glory of the original MS20’s filtering. The range of sounds that the MS20 Mini can produce is impressive and means that this is a very versatile synth that will be in constant use for everything from leads to kicks and basslines.
One of the coolest things about the original MS20 was the upright control panel, complete with knobs and patch cables snaking around giving it the look of a missile launch control system from a '60s sci-fi film. The MS20 Mini retains this cool retro look and having complete control over synthesis via knobs and patch cables is always a joy. Hardware synthesisers force producers into a different workflow pattern and the result is often very different than when working with software synths. The unique controlsurface of the MS20 Mini inspires the sort of creativity and experimentation which can often be hard to come by in the studio.
While soft synths have put a huge dent in the market for hardware synths, the tables seem to be turning with more and more producers seeking out hardware to use in the studio rather than being tied to a mouse. Products like Arturia’s Spark and MiniBrute have gained massive popularity and paved the way for more manufacturers to release old skool synthesisers in hardware formats that manage to stay true to the original sound and character, but are available for a much more sensible price.
Owners of the original MS20 have nothing to fear however, as it is unlikely the MS20 Mini will have a big impact on the price of the highly collectable original synthesisers. But this younger sibling will definitely bring the MS20 workflow and sound to many more producers and that can only be a good thing.
The MS20 Mini is a fantastic synthesiser that sounds amazing, is very versatile and stays faithful to the original MS20 sound and ethos. The smaller size and modern touches like standard MIDI and USB MIDI connectors add to the desirability and will ensure the popularity of this impressive synthesiser. The build quality is excellent and the new design manages to capture the spirit of the 1970s original without feeling dated. Given the versatility of the MS20 Mini it is hard to imagine any studio that would not benefit from having one on hand, it really is that good.
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