How to Create and Set Custom Alert Tones in iOS 5

When iOS5 was first announced at WWDC back in June, many iPhone enthusiasts began clamoring over new features like the revamped notification system, PC free functionality and iMessage. On the other hand, I was more excited about a small, but significant feature: the ability to set custom alert tones.

As a former Android owner, the ability to customize my phone down to every last detail was something I knew I would miss when making the switch back to the iPhone. The worst part though, was having to choose from a short and rather pathetic list of built-in custom tones; the end result being every iPhone owner using “Tri-Tone” for all their notifications.

Now that iOS5 has given iPhone users the ability to choose the manner is which they receive text, email and other notifications, the next challenge for said users is finding and installing their desired alert tones. Join us after the jump and we’ll show you how to do just that.

Creating a Custom Alert Tone

The first step to this process is finding a sound file you would like to use as an alert tone. While your choice in this matter is purely up to you, I tend to choose sound clips that are short and simple. Remember that if you choose a ten-second audio clip as your text message alert tone, you’re going to hear it quite often and likely will get tired of it quickly.

The process you may use to create a custom alert tone can differ between Mac OS X and Windows, but to keep things simple, I’m going to demonstrate a method that can be used on both operating systems. The first step is is to edit your selected sound file to the proper length, which can be done in programs like GarageBand or Audacity.

I like to keep my alert tones between one and five seconds, if possible.

I like to keep my alert tones between one and five seconds, if possible.

Once you’ve trimmed the clip to your liking, you’ll need to export it as a common sound file (e.g. mp3 or wav). Following the export, open up iTunes and import your sound file by going to File > Add File to Library.

As an alternate method, you can simply drag the sound file into your iTunes library.

As an alternate method, you can simply drag the sound file into your iTunes library.

When the sound file is imported into iTunes, right click the file and select Create AAC Version. Doing so will create a duplicate file in AAC format, which is necessary to create the custom alert tone file.

Converting the file to AAC format will create an .m4a file, which is necessary to create a alert tone file.

Converting the file to AAC format will create an .m4a file, which is necessary to create a alert tone file.

An alert tone (Tri-Tone, ironically enough) will let you know when the file is finished converting. Right click on the new AAC version of the sound file and choose Show in Finder/Show in Windows Explorer.

The new sound file should appear just above your original file.

The new sound file should appear just above your original file.

A window will open, which will contain your newly created file (in my example, the file is now labeled “Electro Song.m4a”). The next step is changing the file extension from .m4a to .m4r.

You can change the extension by right clicking the file and selecting Rename.

You can change the extension by right clicking the file and selecting Rename.

Your final step in the creation of a custom alert tone is to double-click the new .m4r file, which will automatically add the alert tone to the Tones section of iTunes.

As you can see in this image, I'm quite found of custom tones.

As you can see in this image, I'm quite found of custom tones.

Adding Alert Tones to Your iPhone

When you’ve finished creating your custom alert tone and are ready to put it into action, you’ll need to sync it to your iPhone. Syncing alert tones works in the same manor as syncing ringtones, but for those unfamiliar with the process, I’ll walk you through it real quick.

Start by selecting your iPhone for the side navigation panel and click on the Tones option in the top navigation bar. You’ll be presented with an option to sync All Tones or Selected Tones. If you have multiple tones, but do not wish to sync them all, simply check the tones you desire in the box provided below. Once you’ve finished with each of the previous steps, sync your phone as you would normally.

You'll need to sync your iPhone each time you want to add or remove a custom tone.

You'll need to sync your iPhone each time you want to add or remove a custom tone.

Setting Alert Tones on Your iPhone

When the sync is complete, your final step will be to actually set your custom alert tones. To do so, go to Settings > Sounds and swipe down until you see the area below the Vibrate option. As it stands now, you have the ability to change the following alert tones:

  • Text Tone
  • New Voicemail
  • New Mail
  • Sent Mail
  • Tweet
  • Calendar Alerts
  • Reminder Alerts

Tap on any of the Sounds options and a full list of built-in and custom alert tones will be displayed. Once you’ve found your desired alert tone, tap on the Tone option and then tap the Sounds arrow in the top left corner to go back to the previous page.

After all that hard work, you'll be sure to enjoy the sweet sounds of your own customized alert tone.

After all that hard work, you will be sure to enjoy the sweet sounds of your own customized alert tone.

Final Thoughts

The creation and implementation of custom alert tones isn’t the easiest process, but it’s well worth the hassle if you’re the type that enjoys customizing your phone. If you’re struggling to find that perfect custom alert tone, I recommend visiting sites that offer pre-made versions, such as Zedge. It’s also worth noting that GarageBand has an option that allows you to add customized tones straight into iTunes, thus bypassing a few tedious steps previously outlined.