The Korg MS-20 is one of my favourite analog synths of all time. I have the Korg Legacy Bundle with the (now discontinued) 3/4 sized USB Contoller modelled after the original and it is always within reach.
I love this synth, and occasionally I get to fondle and tweak the real one a good friend of mine has in his studio but won’t part with just yet…
Every time I am over at his studio I go up to it like Wayne to the guitar shop window in Wayne’s World, press my nose up against the proverbial glass and mutter under my breath, “She will be mine, oh yes, she will be mine” and then stare directly into his face.
When I first found out about the iMS-20 for the iPad (from my friend who has the real one with my drool all over it) my first reaction was to roll my eyes.
Even though I use the iPad as a controller in the studio and in my live sets beyond that I still don’t see the iPad as anything more than a shitty way to browse the net, an awesome way to read books and a sketch tool to get some creative ideas rolling, but only to later transfer them onto, you know, a real computer to get some real work done.
But the iMS-20 might just shift that POV.
Here is what I came up with after a short while of messing about.
In their own words:
KORG iMS-20: Transform your iPad into a complete analog synth studio!
By combining a recreation of the Korg MS-20 analog synthesizer, an analog step-style sequencer, six-part drum machine, Kaoss-style performance, and a mixer to control it all, the iMS-20 will transform your iPad into one way-cool sound studio for the modern musician – and the analog enthusiast as well!
* 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
Purchase and play.
Straight off the bar, the sound quality is fantastic. All amounts of punishment I could wield upon it in the first few minutes of tweaking yielded more than satisfactory results, the squelch is there, the bite is there and I may have wiped a tear or two away. Somebody must be cutting onions nearby, I swear.
The more I fiddle around with it the more this app shines – and I say that with my MS-20 fan boy beanie firmly tucked into my back pocket.
I came to this app with ludditical ire and skepticism firing on all cylinders and now I am here some hours later a changed Tweaker.
The iMS-20 is super easy to use and looks fantastic. Simplicity abounds. From the effects to the seven channel mixer the navigation is intuitive and well planned and little touches really stand out. The keyboard, for example, has settings to make the keys thin, normal and thick, which is a genius touch, and the keyboard can be fully collapsed away in zoom mode to give you full access to the knobs and patch panels, each on different screens.
It just invites you to touch and rub, explore, play and tweak and so you do.
Modular synth cabling emulations are quite a pain in the ass when dealing with a mouse but the touchscreen interface brings a tactile quality bordering on the sublime, the ability to patch by touch takes it a sliver away from the real thing, minus all the finicky yellow cables.
The six part analog Drum Machine is a huge selling point for me and takes this app onto the next level. From the first kick I was sold. Just what I would expect and look for from the app. The drum programming takes me back to the days of hardware and is simultaneously nostalgic and refreshing. The series of six drum pads at the bottom of the screen adds the bonus of being able to play 16 bar drum patterns into the sequencer and record them in real time.
Recording knob movements (automation) is easy and also intuitive, and the addition of two kaoss pad emulators makes for some very quick and dirty sketch possibilities.
The portability of such power is so astounding that I am still processing the full impact of having an MS-20 emulator pretty much anywhere I go these days and, well damn…
As I mentioned the interface is stunning and well thought out but the adherence to the emulation of physical attributes of knobs in software interfaces is still perplexing. I get the whole aesthetics but when it comes down to actually working with the damn things it gets tricky. Yes there is a linear/rotary option but it doesn’t quite translate to touchscreen as well as graphical faders in my opinion. Trying to set the tempo in the song pattern screen, for example, needs a neurosurgical level of dexterity and patience to make fine adjustments (a kind of work around is to set the Knob Sensitivity to Normal or Low but then you lose finesse tweaking on the synth) and it does get frustrating and distracting.
It would be great if a triple finger tap set the knobs to default or if there were some kind of shift + tap function to reset certain aspects of the software. (If there is such a function it is certainly not easily apparent through the interface.)
Also watch out for your speakers! Holy crap when I say this app bites I mean shark not poodle.
One thing I have been unable to figure out in the couple of hours I have been working with the app is how to undo or erase unwanted recorded automation data. It also seems that that automation data can be written into individual patterns but cannot be recorded over song sequences which is a shame. I sincerely hope I am doing something wrong in this area too.
And finally my biggest gripe.
The least well designed aspect of the app has to be when editing drum sounds via the drum sequencer. When I click on the “sound edit” button of the drum sound I wish to edit, the audio cuts to just that drum sound running on some four bar loop – it’s like making a cup of coffee in 6 different rooms- one room for the cup the others for milk, kettle, spoon and so on.
It is very, very annoying. It should at least be an option to edit drum sounds in real time as they play in sequence, not as these disembodied sounds completely removed from the mix, it makes it near impossible to tune the sounds or make finer adjustments.
Color me impressed. I would recommend this app to anyone who wants more than just a toy for making music on the iPad. I will definitely integrate some of the audio from this into my own workflow.
With MIDI implementation coming in iOS4 how the iMS-20 reacts to that development and the live capabilities it presents are yet to fully reveal themselves.
The Korg iMS-20 app costs ¥1,800 ($16) but the price is rumored to go up by the end of the year to ¥3.600 ($32).
More Controller Reviews:
Other Korg iMS-20Reviews:
iPadDJ (More technical overview)