Electronic music technology can sometimes be guilty of focusing on the past to the detriment of progression. We probably don’t need any more software emulations of vintage drum machines, sample packs based on classic sounds or new synths ‘inspired by’ classic models, but some sounds and instruments are woven so inextricably into the history of electronic music that they’ve become staples. Sometimes when a tribute to an iconic synth comes along there’s nothing retro about it; it’s just making a classic available to a new audience.
At this stage there’s very little left to say about the Korg MS-20, first released in 1978 and resurrected by Korg in 2013. By anyone’s standards the MS would surely rank in the top ten classic monosynths of all time, largely because of its uniquely aggressive tone. The MS-20 isn’t so much smooth and funky like a Moog but sharp and spiky, thanks in no small part to the resonant low-pass filter, which can howl and wail with the best of them.
Along with the sound itself, the MS is immediately recognisable by the huge chunk of front panel real estate dedicated to a semi-modular patchbay, which offers access to a wealth of modulation sources, control voltage inputs and the versatile envelope follower section.
The major benefit of the semi-modular setup is that you don’t have to get serious with the patchbay – the MS-20 is seriously flexible without even going near it – but when you do you’ll realise the mind-blowing versatility on offer. We won’t pretend we’re clever enough to figure out how many potential modulation routing options it equates to, but let’s just say it’s a lot. If you get bored of this synth you’re doing it wrong.
With original MS-20s regularly hitting four figures on the second-hand market, the Mini represents excellent value for money. As the name suggests, the reissue is scaled down slightly from the 70s model, but despite the smaller form factor the sound is an incredibly accurate clone of the original.