There was a time slightly after the dinosaurs that I owned a small wall of KORG. There was two MS20’s, an MS50, a SQ10 and a billion of those short patch cables. And you know, it was pretty grand for 1980 something. For 2013, it’s… well… gee what a nice watch, does it tell the time?

BLOODY patch cables

BLOODY patch cables and GARFIELD is the producer – “needs more obesity”.

But here we go again with a reissue of Old and Safe for the New Conservatives. Already been asked if I am going to buy a new midget MS20. I bought a MiniNova instead – maybe I made the wrong choice. Let’s be scientific about this:

Patch Management
MiniNova: there’s four banks of 256 patches which can be sorted into categories and saved back to a patch librarian over a USB connection.
KORG MS20: photocopy pages from the manual and draw the approximate positions of the knobs with a pencil.
Advantage: KORG for being legendary and analogue.

MiniNova: three oscillators per voice with a variety of traditional, digital and wave table forms. Each oscillator can detune with itself for ‘supersaw’ effects and has a self-sync to create harmonics. 18 voices available.
KORG MS20: two oscillators, mono.
Advantage: KORG for being even more legendary and analogue.

MiniNova: two filters 12/24 hi/low/peak which can be combined with control of peak and resonance width.
KORG MS20: hi/low.
Advantage: KORG for being surrounded by candles and photographed in the dark.

MiniNova: five effect units patchable in a variety of configurations.
KORG MS20: falls out of tune as it warms up.
Advantage: KORG because – man, the late seventies are funky know what I mean.

No candles supplied.

No candles supplied.

Signal Processing
MiniNova: Balanced microphone and line inputs with vocoding, pitch effects and flow through the synthesis and effect chain.
KORG MS20: line input that feeds into a pitch detection thing that kind of sounds like an alien mouth organ.
Advantage: do you have to ask?

Arp and Sequencing
MiniNova: Arp and rhythmic ‘gator’ with selection buttons on the front panel.
KORG MS20: nothing. Buy the mini SQ-10 someday.
Advantage: simplicity at its finest.

MiniNova: 20 internal modulation paths each with two sources. Six ADSR generators, three LFOs with multiple waveforms including tempo locked patterns.
KORG MS20: three (*@&$(*$&@ patch cables.
Advantage: haptic physical interface with gravity assisted orientation DIY logistics.

Well the science is in but I don’t know. I keep reading the articles and hearing the talk and wondering if people use this stuff for making music. Or does it go next to the “Christmas Tree”? You know, that elaborate, expensive modular system that people build to look fantastic but sounds like a Roland preset that goes bwooooouuuw?

By any reasonable measure, this is a stupid way to make a bloooop noise.

By any reasonable measure, this is a stupid way to make a bloooop noise.

No, I am not buying an MS20.






  1. Awww, I assumed the new ms20 would save patches over the usb connection (like the minitaur rev2). I am disappointed. I guess I will wait for a second hand one and then maybe get a miniNova.

  2. You know, it’s really embarrassing that I even thought the question IN MY HEAD when it came out, being one of the synths used a lot on your old records…I don’t want it because:

    – It won’t play with most other modular stuff at this stage
    – I don’t need more flimsy smaller keys than I already possess
    – Every time I buy a synth I get bored of it so it has to be pretty featured to warrant existing in 3D
    – It’s going to be on everything everywhere for a while*

    *Actually, if you ever do change your mind I’m sure they’ll be very common on the second hand market in about six months. If I was new to music entirely I probably wouldn’t want something as described above.

    • Naah, not changing my mind. As I said one before I did a few tests with the virtual machine, like tweaking the filters to an exact point where strange things happen and was pleasantly surprised to hear the same oddities happen. KORG did a really great job with that – and then made it polyphonic. I got to have a PS-20!

      But I am now very excited to find new odd things in the new machinery.

      • Fair play to you. Most of the people I ever met who used to struggle with the first home studio equipment don’t long for it. It’s not unfair to say that when you cut through the fetishism, the real relevance these instruments have is still a particular sound. Everything is a sound, everything can be useful.

  3. I have owned an original MS 20 for many years and its the one synth i would never part with .I love its cantankerous nature , the visitations of sounds that can never be reproduced and its filters for processing external audio.The lure of geeky shinny new modular stuff is hard to resist at times but your wise words help me clarify and resist the urge to buy into it only to go plonk brawk..woosh which i can do on my old machine .Thanks mate

    • “resist the urge to buy into it”
      If you already have a pint, why buy a half pint?

      If you have a machine already I’m not suggesting to get rid of it. I did because it suggested the same solutions to ideas each time, which was my fault but the blockage was best solved by forcing a change of equipment. Besides, it went to people I know would use it more than I was – and so better for everyone.

      But if you were looking for the first time I’d really have to say it’s being promoted for all the wrong reasons.

  4. it’s more a case of folk are paying stupid amounts for these and we aren’t seeing a penny. now everyone can buy one and we can get paid.
    Although I did like how you could never reproduce patches no matter how carefully you wrote it down. And how it interfered with shortwave radio.

    • Who is we? How do I get paid for people buying one? Do I sign on?
      Hello, yes I am Mr. K. Org and this is my bank account… Oh right you mean KORG, yeah well they deserve it for actually being the most innovative of the majors. This isn’t an antiKORG rant, it’s just another “fuck you kids are so fucking conservative” rant.

      You want my dollar? Reissue this:

      NO ONE talks this up as cool … it is the ULTIMATE FUCKING COOL.

      The only ‘vintage synth’ worth a pinch of shit – the KAWAI 100F – not any other TEISCO model or version or anything because this one was an accident. Just one thing that makes this insane is the oscillator feeding into both the filter audio and the filter modulation at the same time, which of course causes brain damage. If the reissued the 100F I would buy.

    • All you LAZY and SHELTERED assholes stop laughing at popular culture you’re hurting people’s feelings! And that’s not cool!

      Hey Mr. Quenson, no need to be so defensive. It’s about marketing and perceptions of ‘authenticity’ in music. So you’re involved in circuit building – great! But don’t call other people LAZY and SHELTERED because they don’t think that’s the most worthwhile way to go about music. Not everyone carves their own microwave either.

  5. i have a microkorg, and i cannot wait to buy a ms20 mini. the pro’s of korgs digital synths are well known, but at the same time there are some aesthetic issues between korgs analogue and digital synths.

    the digital synths midi CC#’s are limited to stepped 128-bit changes. meaning when you tweak the filter knob you get stepped changes, which are sometimes subtle but other times very noticable. analogue CV’s are less predictable, so on the MS20 tweaking the LPF will sound and act a whole world apart from it’s digital brethren.

    i want a ms20 because i have been extensively using the korg Monotron synths as effects recently, and the filtering in them is unparalleled. i could run audio signals through my microkorgs filtering, but changing synth settings on the microkorg is time intensive, requires a manual to do, and cannot be done on-the-fly in a live setting. whereas with the ms20 you can just patch and play on the spot.

  6. Mininova doesn’t seem comparable to the Korg in my view. You can have features coming out of your ball sockets, but if it requires hitting menu buttons to access half of them, I’m not interested. I hate analogue fetishkids, but I love knobs when I want to play with a synth. Even the new prophet 12 doesn’t have enough for me…

    • Knobs are great. I use the SL-2 controller as it has about as many as I seem to need. But this isn’t about knobs per se, much as it’s about “audio steam punk”. To use a non musical example it’s also about the fetish for Fairlight CVI boxes, which is due for a re-issue pretty soon too!

  7. Ever heard of less is more? You can put any VA up against an analogue synth and point out all of the extra features it has. Do you actually think that this proves it as being better? It means absolutely nothing in my opinion

    • Yes I have heard of less is more.
      Yes I did put up VA and point out all the extra features it has.
      Yes, because I well aware of how the original MS20 sounds for having used them for decades, and I am not really talking about that.

      When Brian Eno discovered the slight error in the 6th operator of the DX7 he was able to create new and interesting effects. I look forward to working with new synthesisers to discover their oddities, rather than go back to the old, known, predictable and safe.

  8. I’ve never used nor even seen an original MS-20, but I remember handling the cut down replica controller when Korg launched the Legacy software. I’m not sure how much smaller that hollow plastic artefact was than the synth it was modelled on, but it was inconveniently small. If this is the same size as the Legacy controller, that’s put me off before other considerations are made. Why not launch it at the same size, if satisfying the fetishists is Korg’s new game? If I have £500 to burn in the near future, I’d spend it on the more lavishly featured Minibrute or a bunch of Eurorack filters and effects modules to process my digital sounds.

    • It’s bigger than the Legacy Controller, I think KORG got bad feedback on that one.

      When they re-issue the Synthi-100F they better make it 2x size.

      No. 4x.

  9. I actually agree with you.

    While we’re at it, I’d like to file an official request to cancel some other old and predictable instruments that don’t stand the test of time compared to their modern versions. First on my list are:
    1. The Grand Piano – not only that it has just one sound preset, it gets out of tune and requires a trained professional to bring it back to normal!
    2. The Drum Set – Doesn’t even come with the standard headphones jack so you could play them at home, and to change the sound you got to replace the head and tune like 8 different drum lugs on the top and 8 on the bottom of each drum?! Give me my preset selection and the tune button on my electric kit and stop taking hours of my time.
    3. The Human Voice – Interesting tonal quality but no male/female/gospel choir option like on my vocoder – you’re stuck with whatever type you happen to get in the box! Also for double tracking you actually need to record two different takes, and the reverb button is broken. Generally a nightmare for every studio session.

    Oh, and it’s been used on all top 40 singles of the past 50 years. Why not at least TRY to be innovative?

    • “The Grand Piano – not only that it has just one sound preset”
      You’re not doing it right. See John Cage. See Little Richard. See Teddy Wilson. See Beethoven who demanded that pianos added all the keys which are now standard.

      “The Drum Set – Doesn’t even come with the standard headphones jack so you could play them at home”
      Since when did that ever stop anyone playing drums at home? HEADPHONE JACKS?

      “to change the sound you got to replace the head”
      You’re not doing it right. See Martin Hannet. See Phil Collins. See the use of the sound stage, studio spaces, cold room and other innovations.

      “The Human Voice”, Cathy Berberian, Diamanda Galas and Warren Burt but anyway …

      Seriously what has this to do with the ms20? Three examples of instruments in an acoustic space where their placement and physics are of the utmost importance and you’re nattering about ‘replacing drum heads’? Do you really think that every person that plays a grand piano ‘patches’ the same timbre? That everyone that ever picks up a saxophone can only ‘adjust’ it by adding extra bits?. Jesus. There is a whole wide world of sound creation that no amount of antique oscillators will ever touch. That’s part of electro-acoustic production that is being conveniently ignored here. Innovation in studio production lead to tape recorders, compressors and yes … synthesisers.

      This is what happens when people spend too much time on twiddling knobs and never try out basic microphone placement. The whole argument is a variant on “it’s a car analogy” with the same ruse of confusing something with some other thing. This is getting too INTERNETS for me and the comments are starting to drift humourlessly downwards until we shoot it. Next!

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