14 February 2011
Recently while reorganising a studio cupboard I came across an old Korg MS20 USB controller. This reduced sized facsimile of the original MS20 synth was intended as a hardware controller for the MS20 soft synth plug-in that was part of the Korg Legacy Collection, back in 2004. But in one of those classic Eureka moments I wondered if there was a chance it would work with the new Korg iMS20 iPad app. And it does, perfectly. While this may not be news to some it was a revelation to me.
Actually the reason this remote possibility (ha!) even popped into my head was by way of a similar occurrence a few weeks earlier, when I found out my new Roland V-Synth XT (while in retro D-50 mode) could be controlled by the original 25 year old Roland PG-1000 controller - but I digress.
So how does it work?
Of course you'll need the Korg iMS20 app (v1.1 or higher) running on an iPad with the Camera Connection Kit - which includes the requisite USB adaptor. To be honest initially it wasn't exactly plug n' play and it took me a few attempts to to get the iPad to recognise the MS20. The reason for this is that iPad wont let you use any external MIDI hardware that draws more than a minuscule amount of power but the MS20 controller needs quite a bit of USB juice. Unfortunately the MS20 doesn't include an external PSU socket so you'll need to use a powered USB hub as a bridge between the two. I'm not entirely sure why but it seems not all powered hubs are equal to the iPad (or the MS20) and it wasn't until I tried my third hub (a small Belkin unit) that the iPad recognised the controller. Actually there's a free App called MIDI Monitor that can be useful in these situations.
Once you have it connected and communicating there are a few things to note: Using physical patch cables on the MS20 hardware is mirrored on the iMS20 App, which very cool. Another major benefit of using the MS20 controller is that it functions regardless of which mode the iMS20 App is in - Synth, Drums, Song or Mixer. This means you can tweak synth sounds while editing drums, patterns or changing mixer levels and without having to continually return to the Synth page, as you have to without the controller.
Also you can use other MIDI controllers while the MS20 is attached to the iPad. Which means, I would imagine, that you could map other MIDI controller functions to any iMS20 parameters not controlled by the MS20… such as mixer levels, mutes, sequencer controls etc. I don't know what the iMS20 MIDI CC numbers are (I did a Google search but found nothing) but some trial and error should result in figuring them out.
Finally make sure the MS20 controller is switched on (the large Volume control on the right is also an on/off switch) before you launch iMS20. If you accidentally turn off the MS20 while it's connected to the iPad it can confuse the App and make it unresponsive.
Please don't ask me where to get an MS20 controller from, they went out of production about 5 years ago.