Tutorial - Making Ringtones

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Most modern cell phones can be customized with the user's own ring and answer tones. This tutorial will help you to prepare suitable sound files. Many different kinds of file formats are used in cell phones, some of which cannot be created by Audacity. You need to research what file format(s) your phone accepts and how to upload it to the phone before you start to prepare the sound file. See our advice below and always consult your phone manual if in doubt.

Choose the ringtone source

The source for your ringtone will most likely be an audio file on your computer. Click File > Import > Audio, select the file you want and click "Open". Audacity can import MP3, WAV, AIFF, OGG and FLAC files. If your audio file is not in this format, you can convert it to WAV or AIFF (as long as it is not a purchased file) with SuperPlayer for Windows, ffmpegX for OS X, or mplayer for Linux.

Ed 5April12: "Audacity can import MP3, WAV, AIFF, OGG and FLAC files." could be misleading; as I understand it, Audacity requires optional external libraries to open one or more of these types. Maybe: "Audacity can import WAV, XXX, YYY and ZZZ; with the optional external library ABC it can also import NNN and MMM; with the optional external library DEF it can also import ..."

Alternatively, you can play any audio file on your computer (including purchased files), a CD, or any other sound on your computer including sounds playing over the internet, and record the sound. This is not the highest quality way to grab the sound from a CD or from a purchased file, but it is probably adequate for making a ringtone as quality often needs to be compromised in a ringtone to make the file size smaller. If you want to grab a perfect digital copy of the CD track, or you cannot record it easily, extract it digitally to WAV or .AIFF as described at Importing data from CDs. To make a perfect copy of a purchased file, burn it to an audio CD in the application licensed to play it, then extract the CD track in the same way.

Edit your ringtone

  1. Click File > Import > Audio and import your source file; this can be any audio file Audacity can open.
  2. Select the portion of audio you want to use for your ringtone (say 15-20 seconds). To do this, click in the audio track and drag a selection area to left or right with your mouse - you can see the length of the selected audio in the timeline above the track. Many phones will loop the ringtone automatically (repeat it over and over), so choose your selection area with that in mind. To hear your selection play looped in Audacity hold down Shift while clicking the green Play button or type Shift+Spacebar. To stop the playback, press the Spacebar or click the yellow Stop button.
  3. Click Edit > Trim; this will remove the rest of the audio, leaving only the section you have selected. If you want to use the whole file, then skip this step.
  4. Add any effects you may want to the ringtone by clicking in the Track Control Panel where the mute/solo buttons are to select all the track (you may also use the Edit menu or a keyboard shortcut), then choose from the Effect menu. Be sparing with effects, but two you may want to consider are:

Equalization

Many phone speakers cannot reproduce very low frequencies so consider attenuating them (a gradual reduction in the amplitude of the sound level), especially if you are making a ringtone from an original high quality music file. On opening Effect > Equalization you'll notice a horizontal line at 0 dB, meaning that at that position, no changes are made to the volume of any frequencies. A curve can be created using the mouse, clicking at various points above or below the line. For ringtones, bring the line down to -24 dB on the vertical axis for the low frequencies from 30-300 Hz on the horizontal axis. You may want to increase the lower frequencies from 300 Hz to say 600 Hz by dragging them above 0 dB, then reduce the highest frequencies above say 10,000 Hz. This should make the sound somewhat richer and less "tinny" on a small cellphone speaker by emphasizing the frequency range it can reproduce best.

You can view the sound level in the different frequency bands in your ringtone by clicking Analyze > Plot Spectrum. Here is an example spectrum plot from Audacity 2.x for the Nokia original ringtone Hummingbird.aac (47 kbps, 22050Hz, SBR+PS, Mono) converted to WAV (Mono, 22050Hz, 16 bits). This ringtone is quite acute so you can hear the phone from far, something that is essential for a well-made ringtone.

Hummingbird wav nokia frecuency analysis.png

Compressor

Using the compressor will reduce the difference between high and low volume which allows you to make the ringtone louder overall. This suits small cellphone speakers which may not be able to handle large changes in dynamic range. These are the controls of the compressor effect:

  • Threshold is the volume level at which compression starts to be applied. The further right the slider, the louder the input has to be before compression is applied.
  • Ratio - the further the slider is to right, the stronger is the compression applied.
Ed 11Apr12: IMVHO not a good description of "ratio".

Ed 11Apr12: Noise Floor control description missing here

  • Attack Time - amount of time compressor waits to respond after the threshold is reached.
Ed 11Apr12: IMVHO not a good description of "Attack Time"

Ed 11Apr12: Decay Time control description missing here
Ed 11Apr12: there is no "Normalize" box in 2.0

  • If the Normalize box is checked then after compression the audio will be set to maximum possible amplification without adding distortion. This may be a bad idea on cellphone speakers which can give distortions before the maximum possible level is reached. Instead use Effect > Amplify after compression and choose a new Peak Amplitude (dB) of -3 dB.

Ed 11Apr12: two boxes "Makeup gain..." & "Compress based on..." descriptions missing here
Ed 11Apr12: below in "Hard Limiter" we seem to refer to additional instruction in this section dealing with "just the same as when you amplify to -3 dB after compression, you will get no signal above -3 dB" but that text is not here.

Hard Limiter

Instead of Compressor consider using the Hard Limiter from the LADSPA plug-in package which will also restrict the maximum volume to -3 dB. "Wet" and "Dry" refer to the strength of an effect, with 1 being full effect and 0 representing no effect. Set the Hard Limiter to a dB limit of -3 dB, Wet Level to 1.0 and Residue Level to 0.0. Now, just the same as when you amplify to -3 dB after compression, you will get no signal above -3 dB, but you will also get a very sharp reduction in dynamic range which will be more extreme than that you get with the compressor.

If after Compressor or Hard Limiter your ringtone does not sound quite loud enough on the phone, you could try setting the Peak Amplitude or dB limit to -2 dB or -1 dB instead.

What type of file does your phone require?

You need to check what type of file format your phone requires for its ringtones and whether the file needs to be mono or stereo.

Ringtone formats

There are many different ringtone formats in existence but they fall into three main categories:

  • Monophonic - just one note at a time, usually RTTL format. If you want a ringtone in this format it's often easiest to simply use the phone's keypad to enter it if the phone supports that.
  • Polyphonic - multiple notes at the same time; some phones can play true MIDI files, others rely on sp-midi or .mmf formats.
  • Music ring tones - digitally sampled audio files including MP3 and WAV formats supported by Audacity, plus other formats like AMR and QCP.

Most modern phones will support polyphonic ringtones. Phones supporting music ringtones tend to be more expensive models or PDA phones combining a handheld computer.

Convert stereo to mono

Irrespective of the required file format many phones will want mono ringtone files. If the track you are editing is stereo the next step is to convert it to mono.

To convert from stereo to mono click in the Track Control Panel to select the audio, press the keyboard shortcut Ctrl+A (Cmd+A on a Mac) or select the Edit > Select > All menu item, then select the Tracks > Stereo Track to Mono menu item which mixes in data from both channels to mono without distortion.

Export the file from Audacity

The following instructions show you how to export your custom ringtone from Audacity. If your phone needs an MP3 skip to here; if it needs some other format skip to here.

Phones requiring WAV files

As an example of exporting a WAV file specific to a particular type of phone, consider the following Motorola Sprint Nextel cellphones:

i265, i275, i405, i450, i560, i710, 730, 750, 760, 830, i833, i836 ,850, 860, i870, i930

These require ringtones to be in the following format:

WAV (Microsoft); Bit depth: 8 bits; Sample Rate: 8000Hz; Channels: 1 (mono).

If your phone has the same requirements as this, the instructions below should work for your phone. If the only information you have is that the WAV needs to have a bit rate of 64 kbps, these instructions will also probably work for your phone, because in a WAV file the bit rate is always the (bit depth) multiplied by the (sample rate), multiplied by the (number of channels) so the WAV in our example is (8 * 8 * 1) = 64 kbps.

If your phone requires WAV files with slightly different characteristics than these you can adjust the instructions below appropriately. It's assumed you've already made the track mono as per the instructions above.

  1. Look at the Project Rate control on the Selection Toolbar (by default at bottom left of the Audacity Project window); if it is already showing "8000", skip to Step 2 below; otherwise, select the "8000" option from the dropdown menu. If there isn't an 8000 (Hz) option, select "Other ..." and type 8000 in the box that pops up (in Audacity 2.x select and type over the existing value).
  2. Select menu item File > Export, in the "Export File" dialog choose other uncompressed files from the "Save as type" dropdown, then enter a file name. Click Options, a dialog will open. In the "Header" dropdown, select "WAV (Microsoft)" and in the "Encoding" dropdown choose "Unsigned 8 bit PCM"; click OK then Save. If the Metadata Editor pops up at any stage just click OK; metadata tags are not needed for WAV files in mobile phones.

Phones requiring MP3 files

As an example of a phone requiring an MP3 ringtone, the Motorola i580 requires MP3 files in the following format:

Bit Rate: 32 kbps; Sample Rate: 8000 Hz; Channels: 1 (mono).

If your phone has these same requirements this should also work for you; if your phone requires MP3 files with slightly different characteristics you can adjust the tutorial instructions below appropriately. It's assumed you've already made the file mono as per the instructions above.

  1. If you have not already done so download the LAME MP3 encoder to your computer and tell Audacity where to find it; instructions on doing this are here.
  2. Look at the Project Rate control on the Selection Toolbar (by default at bottom left of the Audacity Project window); if it is already showing "8000", skip to Step 3 below; otherwise, select the "8000" option from the dropdown menu. If there isn't an 8000 (Hz) option, select "Other ..." and type 8000 in the box that pops up (in Audacity 2.x, select and type over the existing value).
  3. Select menu item File > Export, in the "Export File" dialog, choose MP3 Files from the "Save as type" dropdown, then enter file name. Click Options, a dialog will open. Set the Bit Rate Mode to Constant; in the "Quality" dropdown select "32 kbps"; set "Channel Mode" to "Stereo" - a single-channel (mono) file will still be produced if your Audacity track is stereo; click OK then click Save.

You may want to add ID3 metadata tags to your MP3. Use Audacity's Metadata Editor for this; enter any tags you require (or none) and click OK (if the tag editor does not appear select menu item File > Open Metatdata Editor).

Phones requiring other formats

If your phone requires files in other than WAV or MP3 format the best course after editing the file is to export it as a mono, 44 100 Hz 16-bit PCM WAV file, then convert that WAV to the required format with an appropriate conversion program below.

Hint: If you add the optional FFmpeg library to your computer, you can export directly from Audacity to some additional mobile phone formats: AMR (narrow band), GSM 6.10 WAV (mobile), M4A (AAC) and M4R (AAC) (for M4R, add .m4r after the file name when you export). Steps:

  1. Set the required sample rate in the Project Rate control on the Selection Toolbar (by default at bottom left of the Audacity Project window).
  2. Select menu item File > Export.
  3. Enter and OK any metadata required.
  4. Choose the format in the "Save as type" dropdown.
  5. If required, click Options to set the AAC bit rate, then OK
  6. Click Save.

To export to 44 100 Hz 16-bit PCM WAV:

  1. If required, convert the stereo track to mono.
  2. Look at the Project Rate control on the Selection Toolbar (by default at bottom left of the Audacity Project window); if it is already showing "44100" skip to Step 2 below. Otherwise, select the "44100" option from the dropdown menu; if there isn't a 44100 (Hz) option select Other ... and type 44100 in the box that pops up (in Audacity 2.x select and type over the existing value).
  3. Select menu item File > Export; in the "Export File" dialog choose WAV (Microsoft) signed 16 bit PCM in the "Save as type" dropdown, then enter a file. Click OK then click Save. If the Metadata Editor pops up at any stage, click OK. Metadata tags are not needed for WAV files in mobile phones.

Conversion tools

Here is a selected list of programs to convert your exported WAV to the format your phone requires:

  • SuperPlayer for Windows: from WAV, MP3 and most formats to 3GP, AMR, MMF
  • ffmpegX for OS X: WAV, MP3 and most formats to AMR
  • AMR Player for Windows: WAV, MP3 to AMR (also AMR NB and AMR WB (AWB) to WAV or MP3)
  • mplayer for Linux (command line tool) and Windows/OS X (interface versions) : from WAV, MP3 and most formats to AMR
  • Mobile Ringtone Converter for Windows: from WAV, MP3, OGG, AMR to AMR, MMF, WAV. Free conversion limited to maximum 4 seconds, and no more than 1/3rd of a file
  • PureVoice Converter for Windows and Linux: from mono WAV to QCP (also from QCP to 8 KHz 16-bit mono WAV). It is a command-line program but on Windows you can drag the file you want to convert onto pvconv.exe and the converted file is then created in the directory from which the original file was dragged.
  • QCP Converter for Windows (trialware): WAV, MP3, WMA, OGG, AAC, Real Audio and Audio CD to QCP
  • WaveToMidi for Windows and Linux (shareware): from WAV and MP3 to MIDI
  • AudiotoMidi for Windows (shareware): from WAV, MP3 and Audio CD to MIDI
  • Widisoft various products for Windows and OS X: from MP3 and WAV to MIDI (shareware)

Don't expect great results when converting audio files to MIDI because it depends on the conversion software being able to identify the notes in the file - this is very hard even for a single line of melody, let alone a complex piece of music with multiple parts.

Uploading your ringtone to your phone

Once you have exported your file and converted it to another format if necessary, you would typically transfer the file to your cellphone in one of the following ways:

  • via a USB cable
  • via a wireless Bluetooth connection
  • connect a Card Reader (typically USB connected) to your computer then write the ringtone to flash memory storage, for example to a Secure Digital (SD) card which can be used in the phone
  • upload it via the internet (e.g. to a web site, from which you can then download it to your phone). There is a free web service Myxer that allows you to upload MP3, WAV, M4A or WMA files to their site. They then send a text message to your phone with a link to the ringtone, and you download it from the link using your phone's browser.

As an alternative, Mobile Ringtone Converter for Windows includes a Web and WAP (Wireless Application Protocol) server to which you connect with your phone's browser.

Note that some cellphones and mobile service providers do not allow the user to download customized free ringtones to the phone, see this page for guidance. If in doubt, always look at the manual for your phone for advice on downloading ringtones.

If you find you can't upload custom ringtones to your iPhone, try Sharetones for iPhone by DJ Nitrogen. This is free software based on the Audacity engine and licensed under the GPL. Sharetones allows you to make MP3 ringtones from MP3 or AAC files on your computer, and upload them directly to your iPhone.

Ringtones you produce are synchronized (subject to availability) with DJ Nitrogen's online database of ringtones called "Ringtone Recipes". Users with music files matching existing ringtone recipes can send these directly to their phone or use the audio editor to modify the recipe.

To make a ringtone, the source file must be DRM-free MP3 or AAC. The software automatically applies a fade-in and fade-out to the ringtone, though you can also use some of the other effects familiar to Audacity users. By default, the ringtone produced is 20 seconds long, but you can choose up to 30 seconds for your tone.

Gale 16Jun12: The djnitrogen site has been unavilable for three days. The commented code below (visible in the editing window) is the text that was available for 2.0.0 release.
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