Unique Ways to Create Custom Ringtones for iOS

Create Custom Ringtones for iOS

While the iPhone comes with a stack of ringtones for you to choose from, much of the fun lies in personalising it with your own ringtones. If you are looking to create a great ringtone for your iPhone, this article will help you come up with some great ideas for unique ringtones you can make yourself.

1. Record a Wav

The first thought is to record a waveform sound sample. For editing WAVs there is one essential tool: Audacity. You can record something like a bird’s song, a siren, a fire alarm or another real life sound using a digital recorder and then edit and transform it in Audacity.

Note: when you download Audacity, be sure to also download the supporting plugins, FFMPEG support and LAME MP3 libraries which make the app much better at converting and exporting file types.

By transform it, we mean radically alter it. For example: lowering or raising the pitch without affecting the speed. These filters are in the Effect menu.


This transforms the recorded sound into an abstract noise rather than a sound effect. You would be surprised how normal everyday sounds are totally transformed by a little simple sound editing. Once you are happy with the sound, make sure it is as loud as it can be by running it through the default compressor.


Then export it as an M4A file and change the postfix to M4R.

2. Convert a MIDI

You can find MIDI files of all kinds of music online – classical music, pop music, just about anything. MIDI has fallen out of favour in recent years, and playing it natively is something not many platforms do anymore. This means in order to use MIDI files, which are a list of notes rather than any kind of audio, you have to convert them into WAV or MP3.

Interestingly, MIDI as a file type used to be the default ringtone format for a lot of popular phones of the 90s, so you can get some great old timey ringtones in that format and convert them into wav format to edit and then Apple M4A format for using in the phone. Just search for “vintage ringtone midi.” For example, these old Nokia ringtones are priceless.

Along with techniques using Reaper and other DAW software, you can also convert MIDI files to waveform audio using Quicktime 7.0 (if you pay a few bucks for the Pro serial number which unlocks the feature).

There are many online tools and simple utilities which do the same job, such as zamzar.com. Simply load the MIDI file into Zamzar, and you will be sent a link via email to download the audio file.


Once again, export it from Audacity as an M4A file and change it to M4R for loading into iTunes.

3. Generate Music

By far, the best way to create ringtones is to generate them. Even without any musical knowledge, you can create music if you have the right software. There are software programs called generative music instruments; they take simple rules and create music using the brain of the computer to decide what to play.

There are many apps which allow for the creation of credible generated music, and one of our favourites is Noatikl (£39.99 on the Mac app store and also as an iOS app for £9.99). The reason to spring for a paid app is merely that the music created is a touch more credible as music, although to be fair the app does specialise in ambient or rhythmic music.

That said, many free options are out there if you look hard enough. One of our favourite sources of online ringtone music generation is a little gadget called Otomata from Earslap.com.


Once you’ve made a tune that you like, by adding nodes to the grid and playing it to let them interact by bouncing off the walls, you can record the music and download the finished tone as a WAV.

Once you have it on disc, use Audacity to trim the wave to thirty seconds or less and even make it loop.


When you have the tone just the way you want it, you can apply the compressor to make it as loud as it can be without distortion. Just accept the defaults.


Finally, you can save it as an M4A file, the Apple format used by the iPhone. As we said, all you have to do to make it a ringtone is to change the M4A postfix to M4R, and it will be accepted by iTunes as a ringtone which can then be chosen from your ringtone menu.


Sometimes the tones you make this way will not work in iTunes. If this happens check the bitrate of the file. It may be that the file is using a weird rate that makes iTunes choke. Stick to common formats like 44100Hz where possible.

We also have some oddly coherent sounding music from a quite old program called QuasiFractal Composer or QFC (a Windows-only program) by Paul Whalley. Some of the output from this sounds really random and sinister, but it just about hangs together. With a bit of twiddling and cutting and pasting of sections in Reaper with the MIDI notes, you could make this sound like actual music.

Another piece of software which can yield excellent results is Nodal which allows you to make fairly credible music for free on the desktop. Both Nodal and QFC take a little time to learn, but it’s time well spent as the results can be unique and require no musical talent whatsoever.

There are many other tools which help you create music, some better than others, and you can find some starting points here. You can find your own solutions by googling “generative music software” or “fractal music.”


Creating custom ringtones, even if you have no musical ability, is easy if you hunt down the right tools. If you have any questions about ringtones or the iOS devices, please let us know in the comments below.

Phil South Phil South

Phil South has been writing about tech subjects for over 30 years. Starting out with Your Sinclair magazine in the 80s, and then MacUser and Computer Shopper. He's designed user interfaces for groundbreaking music software, been the technical editor on film making and visual effects books for Elsevier, and helped create the MTE YouTube Channel. He lives and works in South Wales, UK.


  1. Well, I left it out :) yes you are correct, Garageband is great for this sort of thing, and I use it a lot especially the iPad version.

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