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The iPhone has come a long way since it first made an appearance in 2007. Unfortunately, the process involved in importing and using your own custom ringtones and alerts has not.
This might be the reason you always seem to hear the same old iPhone tones, as there are quite a few steps involved in making it work. Apple still sells ringtones via the iTunes store, so we thought we’d remind you that there’s still a free way to add your own alerts to your iPhone.
There are also a few other tones and alerts you can customize for a more personal device.
1. Prepare Your Song or Alert
It should go without saying that you’ll need to choose a song or alert that you want to import, whether it’s the theme tune to M.A.S.H. or the second-long “you’ve been spotted!” noise from Metal Gear Solid. This is your source material, and it might come from an MP3 you downloaded, or a song that’s already in your iTunes library.
For ringtones you’ll want to trim your song down to around 30-seconds, something you can accomplish with iTunes or any other audio editor. You can use any one of the methods below.
This will only work with music you have imported directly (from your own files), or music you have purchased from Apple (DRM-free) that’s tied to your Apple ID. If you’re using Apple Music, you won’t be able to grab just any song and use it as a ringtone.
Find the song you would like to use in iTunes (import it if you haven’t already), right-click on it and select Get Info. Navigate to the Options tab where you’ll see Start and Stop cues. You can use these to create a shorter version of your song by choosing when you want playback to start and stop. Once you’ve selected a range, hit OK.
Now with the song you’ve just edited selected, head to File > Convert and choose Create AAC Version. A duplicate song that’s shorter than the original should appear. Click and drag it to your desktop for safe keeping, then delete it from your iTunes library. You should also go back to the original song and remove your Start and Stop cues.
Using QuickTime Player
QuickTime Player on the Mac is a powerful tool with some nifty hidden features. Simply open any audio file you’ve downloaded in QuickTime, head to Edit > Trim and drag the sliders till you’re happy with your selection. When you’re ready head to File > Export > Audio Only and save your file to the desktop.
The file will be in AAC format, which is just what you need.
Using Another Audio Editor
Other audio editors will provide you with much more control over your audio file. You can manipulate audio on a timeline, add effects, boost volume levels, or create something entirely unique. Check out our favorite Mac audio editors to find something that fits your budget.
The key is to export to AAC format. In case your chosen audio editor can’t do this, you’ll have to use iTunes instead:
- Save your audio to .WAV (uncompressed) format.
- Import your file to iTunes using File > Add to Library.
- Find the file you just imported, select it, then head to File > Convert > Create AAC Version.
- Drag the new AAC file to your desktop, then delete both the original and AAC duplicate from your iTunes library.
2. Change File Extension & Import
Now that you’ve got your audio trimmed down to size and in AAC format, it’s time to trick iTunes into labelling it as a ringtone. Rename the file (right click, or hit enter on a Mac) and change the file extension to .M4R.
On a Mac you may only need to add the file extension, and you’ll be prompted when you’ve done it correctly. If you’re using Windows and you can’t see the file extension, you’ll need to tweak a setting. To do this visit Start > Control Panel > Appearance and Personalization > File Explorer Options > View then uncheck Hide extensions for known file types and hit Apply.
You should now be able to see file extensions, and more importantly change your that .M4A or .AAC to .M4R. All that’s left to do is import your .M4R file into iTunes. You can either click and drag it into the main iTunes window, or select File > Add to Library from the menu bar.
3. Sync Your iPhone
Your new ringtone won’t appear in your main Music library, instead you’ll need to select Tones from the drop-down media menu to see it. Once you’ve found it, plug your iPhone in and click on it from the devices list (see the screenshot below).
Navigate to Tones under the “Settings” header and make sure Sync Tones is checked. Finally, click Sync to complete the process and wait for everything to transfer. Once complete pick up your iPhone and head to Settings > Sounds & Haptics (or Sounds & Vibration on older devices) and select your tone under the Ringtones option.
You can also set these ringtones as any other alert tone including text tones, new mail alerts, reminders and so on.
Other Sounds You Can Customize
Your new ringtone can be used as a system-wide alert for all contacts, or you can apply specific tones to certain contacts. To do this head to Phone > Contacts and find the contact you want to assign a ringtone to. Hit Edit and scroll down till you see Ringtone. You can also apply a custom Text Tone here too.
Apple’s in-built Clock application can also be customized to sound different alerts. The Timer function is basic but can use stock sounds and any ringtones you have purchased on manually synced via iTunes. The Alarm feature can use a different tone for each alarm set, including stock tones, synced tones, and any music you have synced to your device.
And yes, that includes DRM-protected Apple Music songs. Simply scroll to the top of the list when specifying an alarm tone and tap Pick a song.
You Can Still Buy Tones
A much easier way of getting ringtones onto your device is by buying them through iTunes. This seems to be the main reason Apple hasn’t made adding your own tones easier, with less hoops to jump through. It also means that people are still buying ringtones for a few dollars a pop.
Whether you want to put the effort into converting, importing, and syncing is up to you. You can buy two seconds of Chewbacca roaring for $0.99, or you can find the sound yourself on the internet and do it for free. Check out our collection of video game ringtones for more ideas.
What’s your current ringtone? Feel free to post any questions relating to problems you had using the methods outlined above and we’ll try our best to help.