Create custom ringtones for your iPhone - CNET

Does your iPhone ($1,000 at Cricket Wireless) sound like every other iPhone? Does it play the default Waves ringtone, causing everyone nearby to pull out their own phone and see if it's the one ringing?

Time to stand out from the crowd! You can create an unlimited number of custom ringtones for your device, using a virtually unlimited number of sources: songs, sound effects, MP3 files -- you name it. Here's a rundown of your options.

Buy ringtones in iTunes


You know you can buy apps, music and movies from the iTunes Store, but did you know it sells ringtones as well? It's not immediately obvious if you don't know where to look.

Open the iTunes app on your phone, tap More (bottom right corner) and then tap Tones. Voila! A whole section devoted to ringtones.

Many of these are songs, but if you tap the Genres button and scroll down to the bottom of the list, you'll see categories including Dialogue and Sound Effects. That's where you can score 'tones like R2-D2 beeping and booping, a T. rex roar from Jurassic Park, and spoken-word clips from all manner of movies and TV shows. You can tap the thumbnail for any ringtone to hear a sample.

iTunes' ringtones sell for 99 cents or $1.29. When you tap to buy one, you'll see options including Set as Default Ringtone, Set as Default Text Tone (for text messages, naturally) and Assign to a Contact. You can, of course, modify any of these options later on, as well as tap Done to complete the setup later.

Screenshot by Rick Broida/CNET

This is the major advantage to spending money on ringtones: They're automatically added to your phone, right on your phone, no conversion or hoop-jumping required.

DIY ringtones

If you'd rather not spend any cash, however, or you want music or sounds not available through iTunes, consider the DIY approach.

Here's a great example. For my money, there is no better ringtone you can have for your phone than this. YouTube is really the only place to find it (and countless other clips, sound effects and more). Thankfully, it's fairly easy to convert any YouTube video -- or, for that matter, any MP3 or other audio track you own -- to a ringtone.

If you're starting with YouTube, the basic process goes like this: Convert the YouTube video to an MP3 or M4A audio file, convert that file to the M4R format, then use iTunes to copy it to your iPhone.

You can also hit up the App Store and search for "ringtone maker." You'll find loads of free apps that can convert your songs to the aforementioned M4R format -- but you'll still need iTunes for the final step. Let's take a look at the whole process -- if you're starting with something other than YouTube, jump in at step 3.

1. Copy the YouTube URL to your clipboard.

2. Head to YouTube MP3, a free browser-based conversion tool, and paste that URL into the text field. Now click Download Music MP3. When the conversion is done, it will automatically save to the default downloads folder on your PC. (Note: There are any number of services that can perform the same task. This one is quick, easy and blissfully free of ads.)

3. Now we need to convert that file to the ringtone format M4R. For this, we're going to hit up another site: Free Ringtone Maker. Click the blue Upload Files button and choose your MP3. (Note: This site has a lot of ad banners, some of which look like they're part of the converter. They're not. Use only the buttons mentioned here.)

When using Free Ringtone Maker, make sure to click only the buttons highlighted here. A lot of the ads are a bit deceptive-looking.

Screenshot by Rick Broida/CNET

4. Once the upload is done, use the sliders to choose (and preview) the snippet you want turned into your ringtone. Then click the M4R button and, finally, Make Ringtone. Once the conversion is complete, click the blue Download button to save the new file.

5. Now you have an M4R file that needs to make its way to your iPhone. If you don't typically connect your phone to your PC, well, you'll need to for this. Run iTunes, connect your phone, then look for Devices in the left-side toolbar. Click your phone to expand the options, then click Tones.

6. Now, open an Explorer window and locate your M4R file. Then simply drag it to the iTunes window and drop it. That's it! There's no syncing required; any M4R file you drag here automatically gets copied to your phone. 

Once you've run iTunes and connected your iPhone, just choose the Tones option and drag and drop your converted M4R files.

Screenshot by Rick Broida/CNET

7. Finally, connect and sync your iPhone. It may be necessary to click the Tones option for your iPhone and enable Sync Tones, then sync again. But when you're done, now you should be able to venture into Settings > Sounds & Haptics > Ringtone and choose your new ringer!

By the way, you can accomplish the same thing with any MP3 file (i.e. not just YouTube-sourced MP3s) just by skipping right to step 3 -- great if you have, say, a library of songs or sound effects to draw from.

And, of course, share your nomination for the world's best ringtone in the comments. You already know my favorite.

Originally published on Oct. 29, 2015.
Update, July 23, 2018: The DIY section has been rewritten with up-to-date information.

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