Head to Head: 4 iPhone Ringtone Apps Compared

This post is part of a series that revisits some of our readers’ favorite articles from the past that still contain awesome and relevant information that you might find useful. This post was originally published on March 16th, 2011.

We all love our phones, and often try to express ourselves through them. While it’s fairly easy to do so via individual backgrounds, creating ringtones isn’t quite that simple. Of course, there’s GarageBand which can be used for this purpose, but isn’t there an easier way?

Indeed there is. Today we will introduce 4 different apps available on the Mac App Store which enable you to quickly and easily create ringtones for your iPhone. Meet Ringtones, Ringer, i Am Ringer and iRingtones!

A Little Background…

While all of those apps are somewhat similar in what they offer, there is one caveat none of them can overcome: they cannot use protected songs. If you’ve been buying from the iTunes Store for a while, you know that now songs are simply “Purchased”, but originally they were a “Protected Purchase”.

Natively, no application can use that music and you’d have to buy a ringtone via iTunes. Of course, you could also simply burn your purchased and protected track on a CD and then re-import it, which would remove the restrictions.

Two words of caution: if you can’t see Ringtones in your iTunes Library, make sure the option is selected in the General preferences.

Ringtones Preferences in iTunes

Ringtones Preferences in iTunes

In order for your Ringtones to be transferred to your iPhone, you also need to check the appropriate box when your iPhone is connected.

Ringtone preferences for syncing with iPhone

Ringtone preferences for syncing with iPhone

Just thought I’d let you know this at the outset, since those are the things which drive most users crazy the first time they try to sync ringtones to their device.


The interface of this application is so straight forward, there aren’t even any preferences for you to tweak. In the left pane you can see all your playlists, as you would in iTunes itself, to the right your songs are shown. The instructions are clear at the bottom.

Ringtones - Main window

Ringtones - Main window

Once you select a song, details become available in the lower part of the window. The frizzly lines show you the progression of the track. The wider the line is, the louder your music. The more frizzled it is, the more change there is. Naturally, a progression for a quiet piano piece would not be as ragged as something for a rock song.

Ringtones - Song selection

Ringtones - Song selection

Think about what you want your ringtone for. A wakeup sound probably shouldn’t cause you a heart attack in the morning, while a ringtone should be fairly energetic and loud doe you to hear it at all. The rest is up to your personal taste.

Ringtones allows for a maximum duration of 38.5 seconds for a ringtone. Just find the area of the song you want to start with, click on the progression in the lower part of the window and drag. The highlighting stops automatically after 38.5 seconds, but you are free to keep it shorter.

Ringtones - Selected part for ringtones

Ringtones - Selected part for ringtones

If you didn’t hit the right spot, just grab the bright blue area and drag it to either side. This way, you can easily select different parts of your song.

In order to listen to your selection, just hit the space bar on your keyboard or click the preview button.

Depending on your own preferences, you can have the clip fade in and/or fade out. That means that it starts quietly and becomes louder and also gets quieter at the end – it fades out. I myself like that for wake up tones. I don’t want to scare myself in the wee hours of the morning!

A disadvantage is that you can’t force the app to play from a specific position: if you just want to change the ending of your clip, you can’t make it play just the last five seconds, you’ll have to listen to the entire 38.5 seconds (worst case scenario). It doesn’t sound like a big deal, but do that 5 times in a row and you’ll understand what I mean.

Once you got it down to what you want, just hit “Send to iTunes” and within 2-3 seconds, your clip is available in the Ringtones section.

Ringer unfortunately only enters the name of the song and doesn’t include the album or artist information. Those you will have to enter manually if you want them.

Ringtones - Final ringtone in iTunes

Ringtones - Final ringtone in iTunes

From there, just sync to your iPhone and you’re ready to play some seriously awesome and individual music next time someone calls you!

Price: $1.99 | Link to the App Store | Trial Version

Ringer – Ringtone Maker

Ringer takes a somewhat different approach when it comes to the user interface. As you can see, you have multiple choices, though it escapes me what you need Movies or TV Shows for in this particular case. It might be handy if you want to extract some audio for a different purpose, but for ringtones, I guess most of us will stick to music.

Ringer - Main window

Ringer - Main window

If your music library is rather large, you can use the “Filter” option on the bottom left to search for a specific song. I do recommend anyway to pick out the song in iTunes because it’s easier there than in most of these apps (given that you have the artwork and album views to guide you easily).

Once you’ve chosen your song, it will load in the right part of the window. You’ll see the familiar ragged curve again and here it’s also a light blue area that indicates the ringtone selection. It can be up to 39.5 seconds in length.

Ringer - Selection for ringtone

Ringer - Selection for ringtone

While you have timestamps that allow you to navigate the song, it would be nice if you could zoom out to display more of the entire song in the window. You can zoom in via a keyboard shortcut, but if you don’t have a rather large monitor, you can’t see much of the entire song at once.

Below the music progression you have controls similar to iRingtones, with additional options to enlighten your Facebook friends or Twitter timeline about your new ringtone.

Be polite and use it with care, not everyone will be delighted about mass postings when you create a dozen new ringtones!

Ringer - Controls

Ringer - Controls

While both Ringer and iRingtones allow you to drag the highlight area while previewing a song (and the replay will start automatically at the the new beginning), only Ringer offers you the option to start playing at a point of your choosing within the selection. Simply double click the spot and the replay will start there.

Once you’re happy, hit create and almost instantly your ringtone will start playing in the iTunes library. Here also only the name of the song will be included in the meta data – no artist or album.

Price: $0.99 | Link to the App Store | Trial Version

iAm Ringer

This app with the self-assured name adds some spice to the mix. The interface reminds me strongly of iTunes, which makes it very easy and comfortable to pick out songs. While that is laudable, I wish the developer would have included the option of making the application window larger. Yep, forget about making the most of that 27″ display.

i Am Ringer Mainwindow

i Am Ringer Mainwindow

Once you load your song into iAm Ringer, though, there are some touches that I missed from the previous two apps. Of course, you have your ragged music line again and for some reason the part that can be picked for the song is highlighted in blue as well (did the developers come to an agreement on that?), but the real magic happens in the controls below the song.

Editing within i Am Ringer

Editing within i Am Ringer

You have a dedicated preview button (the arrow with the brackets around it) and then you have the bracket buttons themselves. The left one moves your current selection to the point where your yellow indicator is.

Why is that cool? Imagine listening for your ringtone, waiting for that tenth-of-a-second where it should start. You hit the pause button, punch the left bracket button and you’re there.

The right button though expands or shortens your song, depending on whether or not your indicator is within the blue highlighted selection or outside of it. It’s a very clever and handy way to trim your song.

Controls beneath the song view

Controls beneath the song view

Additionally, you have the options to define a fade in and out and set the start and stop time of your ringtone manually, if you prefer this. But what iAm Ringer really excels with (and that no other of these apps offer) is a real zoom option!

The slider between the magnifying glasses lets you zoom in or out of your song, enabling you to either quickly jump around or go into very fine detail. That allows you to see the music in-depth and decide even more accurately where to set the markers.

Zoomed out to the max

Zoomed out to the max

Same song part, zoomed in as much as possible

Same song part, zoomed in as much as possible

When finished, you just hit the big blue button which will create a ringtone for you (only name, no album or artist), though I wish the button would have a more useful icon.

The circular arrow is somewhat confusing. But don’t let that discourage you. iAm Ringer is a very fine application and is very easy to handle.

Price: $0.99 | Link to the App StoreTrial Version


iRingtones welcomes you with the plainest user interface, asking you simply to drop a music file there. No problem, just fire up iTunes and drag and drop a song right from within it to iRingtones.

iRingtones - Main window with selected song

iRingtones - Main window with selected song

While at first the app didn’t look like much, it gives you some very fine grained control. You can define the length of the fade in and fade out (up to 5 seconds each), the time stamps on top of the music progress indicator are incredibly detailed, and in the right upper area you can always see exactly where you are in your song and how long your clip is.

What I missed in the other two applications is included here: for once, you have buttons on the lower left that allow you to preview only the last or first 5 seconds of the ringtone. Very useful if you’ve adjusted the fade in or fade out setting and only want to hear that result.

Also, you can drag the red position indicator to anywhere while previewing your ringtone, so there’s no need anymore to wait to get to a certain spot. Quite a time saver.

While you can drag the selection area – again, blue – to any length you want, a popup will alarm you if you exceed 40 seconds. Quite a nice touch.

The only downside seems to be that while the playback always starts at the beginning when you move the selected area around, the indicator doesn’t always start there immediately – so it’s some kind of graphical quirk, but the functionality of the app is not affected.

iRingtones is also the only app with preferences worth mentioning. You can specify where ringtones will be saved, how iTunes will behave once they are added, and you have a number of keyboard shortcuts that allow you to adjust your clip in a way you won’t be able to with a mouse.

iRingtones - Preferences

iRingtones - Preferences

Once you’re done, hit create and with the other apps, the ringtone will be imported into your iTunes library.

Contrary to both other apps, all meta information – title, artist and album – are included. For people who like their music library all neat, a nice feature.

Price: $0.99 | Link to the App Store | Trial Version

Wait, Can’t I Do That All via iTunes Too?

Indeed, there is the option to create ringtones from your purchased – but not protected – songs within iTunes. In order to create a ringtone from your music, select the song and then, via right click, chose “Get Info”. On the options tab, you can set a start and stop time for your song.

Once you’ve done so, right click your song again and chose “Create AAC Version”. The bit you just specified will be turned into an aac version. It’s still a music piece though, not a ringtone.

Once more, right click the new file and choose “Show in Finder”. Change the ending of the file to “.m4r”, which is the file ending for ringtones. Double click it and it will automatically be added to your ringtones library. The original created aac piece can be deleted from your iTunes library afterwards.


All four apps perform well. They are all very easy to use and do not require any specific knowledge about cutting or editing music. It’s simple drag and drop, select and then pushing a “create” button. Everyone can do it.

In terms of usability, iRingtones would be my favorite, but since all of the developers offer trial versions of their apps, just download them for yourself and see which one fits you best.

Why not use the iTunes-only method? Well, of course that is the cheapest option. But then, you wouldn’t have the opportunity to easily change the beginning and end of your ringtone by just dragging a selected area. You can’t work visually, you have to manually type in all the information. Also, you can’t specify a fade in or fade out or quickly preview your ringtone.

What is your take on creating ringtones? Do you use a method not mentioned here? Let us know in the comments!

  • Anthony

    Personally, I prefer to use audiko.net.
    Works just as good as any program; if not better.

  • Benjamin

    Ringer is good! Very simple app. I dowloaded it when it was free in the mac app store. You don’t have many options within the app, but that’s not necessary. It does what it says it does, quick and easy. Select a song, select a part, click to add in iTunes! It start’s playing in iTunes right away. Fun stuff!

  • dinadana

    I’m using Ringtone Maker.
    Download it somewhere for free

  • http://MyMacHero.com/ J. P.

    I use Fission‘s ringtone export feature.

  • http://www.vivalamedia.nl Stefan Smit

    You can use Garageband to do the trick also. What would make a real difference is if you can make your own SMS tones. Now you have to jailbraik your phone to make this possible, which is ridiculous in my opinion.

    • Dan

      Stefan, “SMS tones” are Ringtone, in fact. Whats your iOS version?

      Since iOS 5.0 you can use the Ringtones for many System-Sounds like Ringtone, Text Tone, new Mail, new Voicemail, etc., etc..
      (One of my favorite iOS 5 features, actually! ;-))

      Just go to your Settings > Sounds, and select any Ringtone for the particular Service you want.

      In you case, select “Text Tone”, thats for SMS.


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