Review: PocketMac RingtoneStudio 2 for iPhone
Apart from Apple's abortive initial attempts to block users from making their own files without paying ridiculous 99-cent-per-song fees, creating a ringtone for the iPhone hasn't been especially difficult for the past year and a half or so: Apple eventually added a dead simple ringtone creator to GarageBand, and made it even easier to find in the latest version, which is included with every new Mac purchase. So why would anyone want to pay for a separate program, PocketMac's RingtoneStudio 2 for iPhone ($30)?
There are answers, but they’re not entirely straightforward ones. This Mac-only application runs in a window shaped like an iPhone, providing you with a very simple initial interface: just drag and drop an audio or video file on top of the iPhone, and you’ll be presented with a waveform image of the audio, a portion of which can be highlighted and transformed with a second click—the “Create” button—into a ringtone. RingtoneStudio limits you to highlighting only as much of the track as can be transformed into a ringtone, which is to say 40 seconds, and redefines the highlighted area if you decide to place your cursor elsewhere in the track and swipe in a different direction.
On the surface, this seems like a very simple way of creating a ringtone, but in practice, it’s not. Apple’s GarageBand implementation instead provides you with a bright yellow bar that represents the maximum length of the tone, allows you to slide the bar wherever you want to place it on top of a similar waveform, and then trim its start and end points to match whatever your needs may be. In playback mode, it then loops the portion you’ve selected to let you hear what the sample will sound like when it’s playing over and over again as a ringing sound. This implementation is something pretty close to ideal; if you don’t find the part of the song you like at first, slide the bar to try again, and trim until you’re satisfied. GarageBand also works with video files; neither program can make ringtones from protected AAC audio or video files.
When using RingtoneStudio, what you get is an interface that forces you to hunt around in the waveform within the cramped dimensions of the iPhone frame, sometimes requiring manual zooming in or out that you’ll need to do with keystrokes or a menu bar command. Then you’ll have to redefine the entire sample, from start point to end point, as you try to play with the audio file to find the sweet spots. It’s actually a primitive way of looking at the editing task, and not fun to use. That said, the program does make it easy to add fade-ins or fade-outs, as well as to adjust the volume of the track as it’s being transformed into a ringtone; in our tests, the RingtoneStudio ringtones actually sounded noticeably better than the ones created by GarageBand, due to what appears to be more aggressive Apple compression. Though the differences are unlikely to be noticeable through an iPhone’s integrated speaker, you may well hear them—a thinner sound to the music—when listening through headphones.
The only other major consideration with RingtoneStudio 2 is its $30 price tag, which we consider to be on the way high side given three factors: the cost of directly competing software such as iToner, the existence of GarageBand as a free or more valuable option for Mac users, and the fact that $30 can buy 30 ringtones from songs you’ve already purchased through the iTunes Store, or between 10 and 15 ringtones if you haven’t bought the songs already. Even 10 ringtones would be enough to sate most users; there are, of course, exceptions. A stronger portion selection interface and a more aggressive price would make RingtoneStudio 2 a better buy; as-is, it’s recommendable only to the limited subset of Mac users who love to make ringtones, don’t already have GarageBand, and consider iLife too expensive to purchase as a suite at $79.