Korg monotribe Firmware 2.0 analysis

December 4th, 2011

As has already been established, Korg monotribe is MIDI capable. Howver, it is still limited with regard to certain things, such as being able to use more than 8 seqeuncer steps for the synth part or using a filter envelope separately from and LFO. All things that should be very much technically possible on the microcontroller device in the unit. One thing I’ve considered is to modify or even rewrite the firmware of the ‘tribe. Apart from the obvious work of actually rewriting the firmware, you need a way of flashing it onto the device. And preferably a copy of the original firmware, so the ‘tribe won’t be a useless brick until development is done. The microcontroller in the monotribe does support JTAG, a protocol for reading and writing firmware data, among other things, but this function may be locked down for security reasons.

Korg recently announced the 2.0 firmware for the monotribe, which actually gives you 16 step, velocity control and a few other new features. More full information and download available on Korg’s homepage.

But what’s interesting about this upgrade is how you install it. You hold a secret key combo of three buttons on startup to go into upgrade mode, and then play a special audio file into the sync jack to perform the actual upgrade. This is potentially an easy way to hack the firmware of the monotribe (although with the same risk of bricking.)

Below, I’m posting the first step towards that goal, to extract the firmware image from the audio file. First, a big thanks to Th0mas for doing the initial groundwork of figuring out how the data is encoded. In fact, my code below below relies on having a transformed and cleaned up version of the audio data.
Read on…