In the beginning was the ring (really more of an electronic trill or beep) — dull, yet serviceable, using only one tone track; and with it came the single-line melody — not much of a choice.
Then Nokia invented text messaging, and Paanen, a Finnish programmer, realised that you use the same technology to easily transmit songs to mobile phone handsets. This led to the development of Harmonium, the first complex polyphonic sound creator. Instead of being locked into single tones, users suddenly could have rings with harmony and texture.
Still, someone had to programme the sounds; you couldn’t just convert your favourite songs into Harmonium polyphonic sounds. Digital content providers picked up Harmonium quickly and used it to create polyphonic ringtones, selling them to both phone users and phone providers. While polyphonic tones were better than monotones, they still sounded more like an old video game than the music they were patterned after.
MP3 Ringtones: The New Wave
Today, ringtone providers are switching to MP3 ringtones with realistic, near-CD-quality sound. Also called master tones or true tones, these are usually bits of a real song, using your favourite music to alert you to a call. Voice ringtones, sound effects, and instrumental or lyrical music are all available as MP3 ringtones today.
MP3 ringtones today account for two thirds of new mobile ringtones. The sound is a snippet of your favourite music with lyrics and the whole band playing — much nicer than the old-fashioned ring or dull monotone melody. Most mobile phone manufacturers today include this type of ringtone on their newest handsets. Even better, you can program today’s phones to play different tones for different reasons.
If you have more than one life, as most people do, you can also have multiple ringtones. The songs you want played when you’re out at a pub are probably different from the ones you want sounding at work and with most phones today it’s not hard to switch. You can also assign different ringtones to different people; your mother might have a radically different tone from your boyfriend.
Most cell phones come with some ringtones pre-installed, but you can find the ones you really like out on the wireless web. There are several methods for downloading ringtones. You can subscribe to a service that will send them to your phone weekly for a fee. Or you can download new ringtones from your favourite band’s website. If you prefer to look at a wider variety of ringtones, you can download them directly to your phone from several sources, using either a scrollable menu or choosing a numerical code linked to the ringtone you want. Not all rings are compatible with all phones, so do try to sample them first.
If your ringtone sounds awful, it may not be the ringtone; it may be the phone. Older phones aren’t perfectly compatible with the newer ringtones, though they’ll probably play them. Imagine the difference between stereo systems in the 1950s and today; that’s about the difference you’re looking at between a three-year-old phone and a brand new one, in terms of sound output. Your mobile phone provider should be able to tell you what your phone can handle.