Mobile phone ringtones are an odd category. Even before the launch of the iPhone, millions of users with basic “feature phones” were spending up to $3 each for low quality, 30-second samples of their favorite songs. Apple eventually joined the ringtone game, too, by offering ringtones for up to $1.29 each on the company’s iTunes Store.
Ringtones can certainly be fun and useful, but spending as much as (or more than) a full high quality audio track on a 30-second clip is a bit absurd. Thankfully, several companies have stepped in to offer iPhone users the ability to create their own ringtones. One of those companies, Ambrosia Software, recently let us try out its iToner 3 ringtone creation app.
Installation & Setup
iToner is now distributed through the Mac App Store. This small and simple app is perfectly suited for the App Store’s ease of installation and use on multiple machines.
Once downloaded from the App Store, simply run the iToner app from your Applications folder to start creating ringtones.
Creating & Managing Ringtones
iToner helps you create ringtones, but it also acts as a ringtone manager. The first screen you’ll see upon starting the application is the “Ringtones Library.” It will be empty to start with, but as you create new ringtones or add tones you’ve created previously, you can fill up your library for easy search and access. You’ll still want to keep your ringtones in iTunes for copying to your iDevice, but iToner’s library will let you easily edit them going forward.
To create a ringtone, first start with a source file. This can be a file on your Mac or a song in your iTunes library. Even DRM-free video files can be converted so that you can extract a portion of the audio track for your ringtone.
You can also choose one of several dozen ringtones that Ambrosia includes with the application. Click “Get Ringtones” in the upper left of the iToner window to select your source file.
If you choose “iTunes Library,” you’ll be prompted to select your correct library from the Finder window in case you have more than a single library, and then you’ll be presented with your entire list of songs and video files. Note that only unprotected DRM-free content can be used by iToner. This includes all new songs sold on the iTunes store, but not those songs sold before the “iTunes Plus” transition that have not been upgraded. iToner displays a padlock icon next to any song or video that cannot be converted due to DRM.
While browsing your library, you can sample songs by double-clicking on their title or by highlighting them and pressing the “Play” icon at the bottom-center of the window. Once you’ve selected a song, press “Import” on the bottom right.
You’ll now see your song’s waveform displayed in the Ringtones Library. The entire song will be kept in the library and unless your song is 30 seconds long or less, you’ll want to edit it down to a smaller clip.
To do this, hover your cursor over the waveform and select the scissors icon that appears on the right. This will take you to the ringtones editor.
The editor shows you the entire waveform of the audio file, and a 30-second window that will become your ringtone. You can make the ringtone as small as you’d like by adjusting the size of the window, but for maximum compatibility on the iPhone, keep it to 30 seconds or less.
As you move your edit window through the waveform, the audio will play in the background and constantly update to reflect the new start position. This can be both helpful and annoying, and “audio scrubbing” as it’s called can be turned off in the application’s Preferences.
Identify the starting point for your ringtone and adjust the edit point to start there. You can also adjust the fade-in and fade-out duration, which by default is set to one second, and the way that the fade occurs, with selections for linear, exponential, and logarithmic fades.
Throughout the editing process, you can continually preview the current ringtone by pressing the spacebar or the “play” icon. This will help you fine-tune your starting point and fades. Once you’ve created the perfect ringtone, press the “Send Ringtone to iTunes” button at the very bottom of the window. This will save your ringtone in an iTunes-compatible format and put it in the “Tones” section of your iTunes library, where it can be synced to your iDevices.
iToner also includes an extra option that can make your ringtones sound better: ClearTone. ClearTone is a feature found in the ringtone editor that modifies the equalization of your audio track for what Ambrosia claims is better sound for the iPhone’s small speaker.
We tested the feature by creating the same ringtone with and without ClearTone turned on. The ClearTone feature definitely adds extra emphasis to the highs, making the ringtone slightly louder and clearer when played with an iPhone 5 speaker, but in the end we preferred our ringtone without ClearTone for our particular source song. This feature might work better or worse depending on the source, and is subjective for each user.
Other than that, there are no additional significant features. iToner is at heart a simple, single purpose, and focused app.
iDevice users don’t need any software at all to create ringtones. Simply take an AAC-encoded audio file that is 30 seconds long or less and rename its extension to *.m4r. You can then add it to your iTunes library and use it on your iPhone. This is obviously the cheapest method (free), but is also the least functional in that there is no easy way to edit the audio files, add fades, or fine tune starts and stops. Users can always get a third-party audio editor such as Audacity and do all of these things manually, but for ease of use, an app like iToner is the way to go.
There are a variety of ringtone apps on the Mac App Store, ranging in price from $2 to $25, with varying levels of features. For basic ringtone editing, however, iToner seems to strike a nice balance between “drag & drop” simplicity and powerful editing with the easy addition of fades and equalization via ClearTone.
It should be noted that many reviews of iToner 3 on the Mac App Store point to issues with upgrades and iTunes libraries. In terms of iTunes library problems, Ambrosia tells us that most cases are caused by iTunes libraries that have been moved off of the main hard drive in conjunction with Apple’s new sandboxing requirements. The company is still working to address issues experienced by some users who have upgraded from a previous version of the app.
We did not encounter any issues during our test of the app, and all functions performed as expected. Users experiencing problems are encouraged to contact Ambrosia for assistance.
At $1.29 each, purchasing ringtones can quickly become an expensive habit and an app like iToner can save a user a significant amount of money in the long run, in addition to allowing greater customization.
At US$9.99, however, the app feels a bit overpriced for most users. Those creating dozens of ringtones will find the app to be a great value over time, but an app like iToner seems more appropriate for most users in the $5 range. Regardless, those that purchase the app won’t be disappointed in its functionality; the only question is the value of that functionality considering its price.
iToner 3 is available now from the Mac App Store. It requires OS X 10.7.4 or later.