Q: I read your article on adding third-party ringtones to the iPhone. I am using an iPhone 5. I added a third-party James Bond theme as a ringtone but it appeared in iTunes under Music. How do I move it to the Tones folder to add it as ringtone and thereafter synchronize it?

Setting up a ringtone in iTunes

– Piyush

A: Unfortunately, even after all of this time, Apple hasn’t done anything to make the process of creating ringtones easier, and adding your own tracks as ringtones still requires a few manual steps.

The first thing to keep in mind is that iTunes and the iPhone only support ringtones in the AAC file format, and a track must be no longer than about 30 seconds or so to be able to be used as a ringtone.

If the third-party ringtone you’ve downloaded is already short enough and in the AAC format, with something like an M4A extension, then all you actually need to do is rename it to have an M4R extension before importing it into iTunes. For example, “James Bond Theme.m4a” becomes “James Bond Theme.m4r.” Upon import, this will automatically appear in the “Tones” section, read to be synced to your iPhone from there.

If your third-party ringtone is much longer than that, or is in another format such as MP3, you will need to trim and/or convert it first so that it meets these requirements. The good news is that you can actually do this using iTunes, although it’s not a simple one-button process. If it’s a longer track, you will basically need to set the start and stop times to select the portion you want to use as a ringtone and then use iTunes’ built in conversion feature to create a new file in the proper AAC format.

Start by going into your iTunes preferences and choosing “Import Settings” from the General screen, and ensure that you’re set to use the “AAC Encoder.”

If the existing ringtone or track is longer than about 30 seconds, you will also then need to choose the track and select Get Info from the iTunes File menu. On the Options screen, select a “Start Time” and “Stop Time” that covers whichever third-second portion of the track you want to use. Note that you may be able to get away with up to 40 seconds, depending on the track, but staying at around 30 seconds is usually a safe bet unless you’re willing to repeat the process by trial and error.


Setting up a ringtone in iTunes

Note that you can use fractions of a second here to get your selection just right, and can simply play the track back to preview it before actually converting. When you’re satisfied, simply choose Create New Version, Create AAC Version from the iTunes File menu to create the new shortened version of the track. The new file should appear in your iTunes library under the same name as the old one.

At this point, you will need to rename and reimport the new file to make it appear in the Tones section. The easiest way to do this is to just drag-and-drop the track directly from iTunes to a Windows Explorer or Mac Finder window, or simply to your desktop. This creates a copy of the file, which will have an M4A extension. Simply rename this to an M4R extension and double-click on it to re-import it into iTunes, where it will appear in the Tones section and be usable as a proper ringtone.

Once you’re satisfied with this, you can go back and delete the converted version from your Music section in iTunes, as this is essentially a duplicate copy. Further, if you started with a normal music track, you will probably want to go back into the properties for that track and turn off the “Start Time” and “Stop Time” settings so that the complete track plays properly the next time you want to listen to it.



Jesse Hollington was a Senior Editor at iLounge. He's written about Apple technology for nearly a decade and had been covering the industry since the early days of iLounge. In his role at iLounge, he provided daily news coverage, wrote and edited features and reviews, and was responsible for the overall quality of the site's content.