iPad App Review: Korg iMS-20

I recently reviewed Korg DS-10 Plus, the analog synthesizer for the Nintendo DS that emulated a Korg MS-10 analog synthesizer. Now Korg is back – this time with the iMS-20, a full translation of the classic Korg MS-20 for the iPad.

The Hype:
KORG iMS-20: Transform your iPad into a complete analog synth studio!

Product Highlights:
– A complete recreation of the legendary Korg MS-20 analog synth
– Built-in 16-step analog sequencer to control the sound
– Music production studio with the MS-20 mono synth, a six-part drum machine, and a mixer
– Kaoss Pad function allows intuitive performance and control
– Publish and share your iMS-20 songs online with the SoundCloud audio platform

The Reality:

The reality of the situation for me as a hobbyist musician is clear – the closer I can get to having a ‘life sized’ music system without having to deal with the space, power, or cost of such a system … the happier I am. And as I have said before, I HAD analog synths 30 years ago, and while the digitally tuned units were better, analog units like the Korg MS-20 (personally I had a Moog) were simply a BEAR to deal with!

Because of that, like many others I have spent years working with ‘analog synth packages’ for a variety of platforms. First, it was the ‘Vintage Synth’ expansion for my Roland JV-880, which was a great way to reproduce all of my favorite Juno and Jupiter sounds, but otherwise a bit narrow. The software package for my Kurzweil K-2000 added loads of great sounds and programming options, but of course all of these things eat away at available polyphony.

From there I took the typical ‘software synth’ route – but as a result I have literally thousands of dollars in music production software on my Mac, since each one tends to have a fairly narrow purpose! For example, if you bought the Korg Legacy software plug-in for the MS-20, it would cost $50 by itself, or $200 for the full collection (they just changed things, so it is no longer the Analog & Digital collections I got a while ago)!

With the iPad everything has changed. I have access to the classic Roland bass and drum synths (TR303, 808 and 909) via Rebirth, some cool beats from the iElectribe … and now an awesome analog synth and sequencer from the iMS-20.

The original MS-20 was a dual-oscillator monophonic synthesizer with multiple routing and filtering capabilities. You get ALL of that in the iMS-20 … but also so much more! Included in the iMS-20 is the analog monosynth, an analog sequencer, a drum machine based on MS-20 patches, a drum step sequencer, a song sequencer a virtual keyboard, two virtual kaoss (x-y controller) pads and a mixer.

The core of everything is the MS-20 synthesizer. The reason anyone cares about this after so many years is that the MS-20 had amazing fat (or phat) sounds and great tweakability. ALL of it comes through immediately. I had initially planned to survey everything and THEN dive into specific details, but after loading up the iMS-20, I spent a couple of hours doing nothing but tweaking sounds and playing lead lines and bass lines!

The synth uses ‘analog modeling technology’, which has come a long way over the past couple of decades. The sounds are authentic, as are the filters and effects. The iMS-20 has a single voltage controlled amplifier (VCA), dual VCOs (voltage controlled oscillators), dual VCFs (voltage controlled filters), dual EGs (envelope generators, which determine the attack, sustain, and decay of the sound), as well as an extensive patch panel complete with virtual 1/4″ patch cords!

Using the patch panel you can add up to 14 effects to your sounds, including a Short Delay, BPM Sync Delay, Reverb 1, Reverb 2, Chorus/Flanger, Equalizer, Compressor, Tube Simulator (Valve Force), Low-Pass Filter, High-Pass Filter, Band-Pass Filter, Talking Modulator, Decimator, and Grain Shifter. I still have stomp boxes and rack mounted effects, and thinking about how much physical space and hassle this many effects would require is mind-boggling!

Playing is accomplished three ways. The most innovative is the two Kaoss pads. These XY-grids allow you to map a function to each axis and vary both simultaneously. They have been around for over a decade, and remind me of the XY joystick functionality on the 1990 Wavestation (awesome synth, by the way). The Kaoss pad tends to be most useful for dynamics and other sweeping functions rather than musical composition. You also have immediate access to a large keyboard, but will likely find it difficult to pick out individual notes unless you have small fingers. What I tended to to was to pull up the virtual 2 octave keyboard, which had more reasonable sized ‘keys’ and allowed me better accuracy.

The iMS-20 also has an extensive drum machine with full pattern sequencer. This is another area where you will lose hours just playing around. You start with a set of preset drum sounds, which are decent by may require some adjustments if you prefer Roland TR303 stuff. Then you choose a tempo and rhythm grid and simply map the sounds to the beats and set things running! You can then hop back to the synth mode and play along! You can also assign sounds instead of drums, but since it won’t alter the tone it works best if you use atonal filter sweeps for example.

In case you didn’t catch my insinuation, despite being a ‘mono’ synth, the iMS-20 actually has more like a Baker’s Dozen MS-20s! You get the main synth, you can independently control all 6 drums as synths, and the same is true for the analog sequencer. Each has its own effects sends and returns as well as all filters and envelopes! It is a stunning depth of technology for a seemingly simple synth recreation!

You also get a sound sequencer, which is very similar to the drum sequencer (6 part, 16 step) but of course uses the sounds. Once you have a bunch of synth patterns and drum patterns, it is time to patch them all together using the song sequencer. This one is a bit less expansive than the others, as you are basically just assigning the stuff you already did to different steps in the overall song. You can insert up to 16 patterns per 256-bar song.

You can also save songs and output everything you make in WAV format, outputting to your computer or saving to the SoundCloud audio platform. You can ever do a real time recording of a performance featuring your song and a lead run using the synth!

I have fallen in love with the iPad as a music production device – the iElectribe, Rebirth, iRig, Tascam, Nanostudio, and iMS-20 are amazingly robust and fun ways to produce music in a portable and easy way. The iMS-20 amazed me – I expected an upscaled version of the DS-10 Plus, but this is SO much more! More amazing? It costs less! The iMS-20 is currently $15.99 on the app store (reportedly going up to $32 in February). It isn’t cheap, but for what it offers it is an amazing value!

Here is a trailer showing off some of the features:

Review: Korg iMS-20

Where to Buy: iTunes App Store

Price: $15.99

What I Like: Way more than just a MS-20; Great sounds; full song-making capability in a single app; great value for the functionality

What Needs Improvement: They could have used a full grid-based song editor like Nanostudio to greater effect

Source: Personal Copy

Categories: Reviews


4 replies

  1. RT @GearDiarySite: iPad App Review: Korg iMS-20 http://goo.gl/fb/Drqme

  2. The Korg iMS20 iPad Synth/drum machine/sequencer… Review of this monster of an app http://bit.ly/gvqldP

  3. RT @geardiarysite: iPad App Review: Korg iMS-20 http://bit.ly/ibNu96
    Concur. Mad, mad, mad shit