Sonic LAB: Korg MS-20 Desktop Kit

More DIY synth action from Korg - plus the SQ-1      23/02/15
    MP4 15:25 mins    

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Last year, we made a lovely film of me building the MS-20 Keyboard kit - time-lapse the whole nine yards. Followed by a full review. I also found that it was a really pretty damn close reboot when compared to my 30+year old example. A job well done.

Fast forward to this NAMM and the surprise appearance of the new desktop format of the MS-20, also a kit, but coming with the also newly announced SQ-1 sequencer.

So I built the desktop kit, it took about 1.5 hours, simpler than the keyboard version, but still a lot of nuts to do up (I recommend using the sockets from a socket set and hand tightening).

Build quality is on a par with the Keyboard kit, solid jackfield mounts, surface mount pots, but well mounted, any flex is in the actual nylon knob shafts, not the circuit board. Paint job appears to be more solid than I found with the keyboard kit too.

Immediately, I felt more in tune with the desktop format, loving the patchbay face up, and not missing the keyboard, the MS20 desktop having the same USB/MIDI connections.

First up, there are differences and in my opinion significant ones. Firstly Osc 1 gets Pulse Width Modulation  via a new hole on the patchbay - oh yes!

While we're looking - there's now a V/Oct input for CV control in addition to the Hz/V which will be a welcome addition to those of us with Eurorack systems. But it does come at the expense of OSC 2 CV in, so you can't independently control each. But it may be possible via a circuit board patch point and a bit of adventurous DIY for there are 14 spare jack holes in the casing.


On to the front panel and there are a couple more additions which I think greatly enhance the MS engine. First up OSC sync, 1->2 and it sounds great, modulating OSC pitch via an envelope or via the LFO give you some really ripping tones. The other biggie is Osc 1 to 2 FM another option that was not possible with MS-20 classic, more great tones available.

I know this kit is a premium when compared to the MS-20 mini, but probably on a par with the cost of the keyboard version, plus you get the SQ-1 sequencer too (review coming soon). In fact, some might say that this would make sense as a mini format, due to the mini jacks, making it even more Eurorack friendly, and that is certainly true, it would. But that's unfortunately not on offer. So yes you are paying a premium

For me this form factor and MS-20 synth tweak makes a lot more sense as a synth  - I'm sorely tempted to ditch my own MS-20 original and get this for myself. I just feel it's a better proposition all round. MS-20 Desktop kit is £969/ $1700 and available now. They say it's limited edition, but they also said that about the Keyboard kit version and you can still get that. True it's not a cheap synth, but it's a good one.


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