The Inside Story of Creating Apple's "Tri-tone" Marimba Alert

MarimbaThat Tri-tone Feeling

Apple's marimba-based "Tri-tone" alert sound is ubiquitous. It's the default sound for incoming text messages on the iPhone, but it wasn't actually created inside Apple. A programmer and musician named Kelly Jacklin posted a blog entry that describes how he created the sound for the makers of SoundJam when they wanted an alert to let you know your CD had finished burning.

SoundJam, or SoundJam MP as it was officially named, was an MP3 jukebox player—that's what we called these things back then—originally inspired by WinAmp, a popular MP3 jukebox player for Windows.

SoundJam MP was a big hit for Casady & Greene, who distributed the software for those two developers, Jeff Robbin and Bill Kincaid. There are two versions of what happened next. The first is that Apple bought the rights to SoundJam and hired Messrs. Robbin and Kincaid to make iTunes.

The second—and the one I was personally told by Casady & Greene at the time—is that Apple hired Messrs. Robbin and Kincaid, who then stopped further development of SoundJam MP. Since Casady & Greene continued selling and supporting SoundJam...I digress.

So Kelly Jacklin created a bunch of sounds for the SoundJam CD-complete alert. He posted an MP3 of all of them at the bottom of his blog entry, but it was the sequence he called 581-marimba.aiff that was picked. When that file went to Apple with Messrs Robbin and Kincaid (or SoundJam, take your pick), it eventually became one of the many default sounds included with the iPhone.

Mr. Kelly wrote:

After listening to them all one final time, I liked the marimba sounds the best, and preferred the ascending sounds. I settled on 581-marimba.aiff as my favorite.

I then converted them to .snd (SND, a Mac sound file format using 'snd ' resources) files, and shipped them off to Jeff. I told him my recommendation, and after listening to some, he agreed, so he thanked me, and said he would be using it. Next time I got a drop of the app from him, it was using that sound for the disc burn completion sound. I thought that was pretty cool. All in all, I probably spent a couple hours on it, time I was more than happy to give to a friend who was developing a music app.

The full story is well worth the read if you like Apple lore.