A close look at the KORG MS-20 NAMM 2013 rumors

There has been some debate, though less than might be expected, about the supposedly leaked images of what essentially amounts to a KORG MS-20 reissue. I could tell you what I would like to see released by KORG too. But since my wishes a would have no influence (sadly) over what will actually be released at NAMM, in this post I'll stick to the facts - meaning what can be said by looking at the leaked images.

Let me first state that I have a history in graphic design, 3D and doing image retouching in particular. With what skills I've picked up over a dozen years, I can't point to any signs of photoshopping in these images. The low quality makes it hard to judge one way or the other, though.

As other commenters seem to agree on, these are definitely new images - they depict neither an original MS-20 nor the MS-20 legacy controller. The general consensus around the net, which I believe has missed some important clues (more on that below) seems to be that this will be a reissue of the classic analog MS-20 synth in the (exact) shape of the MS-20ic legacy controller at 80% size with mini keys that was produced in the early 2000s.

These are the important points that haven't been given attention, and the clues in the photos that prove it:

> 80% scale

The new MS-20 is larger than the legacy controller, and there are a couple of hints to this:
knobs and jacks look relatively (slightly) smaller than the legacy controller, which implies that the body is slightly larger. As a result, the panel is just a little less dense, matching the original closer. This is evident around the KORG synthesizer logo, bottom right, if you compare that section to the MS-20ic counterpart. This of course assumes that the jacks and knobs are of the same type and not devilishly scaled down. They do look very similar in shape and texture to the controls on the MS-20ic.

Not mini keys (but not full size either)

From the proportions, the keys do NOT look like mini keys - this is easier to conclude than the knob size thing. Examine the point where the black keys meet the body. Mini keys slant downwards so that they are in line with the white keys. The leaked images have black keys with the same shape as full-size keys, which do not slant down but rather cut straight off where they meet the panel. The other hint is to simply compare the length of white and black keys, which resembles full-size keys as well.

On the other hand, this other leaked image has a vintage MS-20 next to it, and the whole device looks unquestionably smaller than the original (full size jacks) to the right. I don't know what to make of this, but these are no ordinary mini-keys, that's for sure. This in-between size might account for why, according to the rumor, it's called "Mini" rather than ”Micro”. (the MicroKorg has MiniKeys, remember)

Real analog (not virtual)

I definitely think it's a (100%) analog - it's not such a huge step for Korg as some pundits make it sound like. What's more, KORG would be far from the first to do this in recent years as Arturia and Dave Smith (and Doepfer and everybody except Rolaha) beat them to the punch.

Also, for a more conventional patch-storage synth you could save substantial money by making it virtual analog (or digitally controlled analog), and hiding some complexity in menus and software. But in this case that would be more like a zero-sum game since all the routing sockets are evidently there.

There is nothing of course, except common sense, to contradict this being a reissue of the legacy controller. It's gotten some renewed interest due to support in the iMS20 iPad app, yielding a (simulated) polyphonic MS-20 of sorts. But, they tried that already, and the controller bundle wasn't a huge commercial success and was only around for a couple of years. Not to mention the analog trend that's currently sweeping the synth-buying public. (disclaimer: I really want this to be a new analog synth, OK)

While I'm quite certain the reissue will be an analog device true to the spirit and letter of the MS-20, I believe it's likely that KORG would reengineer the internals using state-of-the-art surface mounting and such, bringing down the cost (and weight). I wouldn't be surprised by a battery power option either. MIDI/USB however is less likely, though I would enjoy that myself thank you very much. This is just me guessing, the image does not tell as there's plenty of space for such things in the back. V/oct would be a far more reasonable choice these days than the original's hz/V. Though authenticity is a major selling point too - not sure about that one.

Quick (deduced) facts

  • Not mini-keys, perhaps not quite full-sized either
  • Body appears to be larger than the legacy controller and smaller than the original (>80% < 100%), though admittedly that doesn' make complete sense.
  • Mini-jacks just like the legacy controller
  • 100% analog, if there's any logic to KORG and this world. Probably modern internals though
  • Don't hold your breath for MIDI and/or USB

I just want to point out that this post is mere speculation based on the released photos, there are no hard evidence that the rumor or leak is accurate. But in just two weeks we might find out!

PS, bonus punditry: I believe King Korg, the other leaked new synth, is some kind of modeled/VA rather than analog. Could even be some spin-off of the KRONOS synth engines.