The Cleartones project was born from a personal need. For years I have been making my own ringtones because the phones I had didn't come with the ones I liked: clear, clean, simple yet effective. My friend Joachim Baan and I decided to do something about it and came up with the Cleartones concept.

We suspected we were not the only ones longing for something simple, and luckily, we were right. Soon sites like Wired Gadget Lab and Gizmodo spread the word about Cleartones and the reactions all were encouraging.


You are now looking at the third iteration of the website, and apart from the original Cleartones (now called Classic) and Cleartones Organic, there is a third set of ringtones and notification sounds available called Cleartones Pure, with sounds solely created using sine waves, in an attempt to get to the core of what a minimalistic ringtone should be.

The article below, The Definition of a Good Ringtone, explains why something simple like a good ringtone matters. It was originally published on the sound art and -design related website Everyday Listening.


The Definition of a Good Ringtone

It’s happened many times: I sit in a train, as all of a sudden a loud noise wakes up all the passengers. It’s a phone, as loud as can be. Thin, harsh music. Many faces turn to the source of the sound, watching it’s owner nervously dig in his pocket to pick it up as soon as he can.

But it’s already too late. I don’t know the person, but now I know his love for German schlagers (and probably lots of beer and sausages, right?). Apart from the fact the sound annoys other people, what does it say about a person? What kind of prejudice does he leave?

This is a random example of a situation in which unwanted sound disturbs our living space, and there are many more. I cannot think of any good reason to use music as a ringtone. It’s like wearing a button showing a tiny fragment of a painting by your favorite artist.

The music I like might not be the music you prefer (I like to enjoy a song from beginning to end, preferably on a quality sound system or headphones), and the sound of your three-year-old yelling might make you feel all warm inside, do you think it has the same effect on your colleagues? That being said, let’s look at the positive side of things. Is there such a thing as a good ringtone?

Properties of a good ringtone

  • Mood-less-ness. A ringtone should not communicate a specific mood. You never know who’s on the other side of the line, and you never know what message is waiting for you.
  • Personality. The iPhone is a wonderful device, but since they are so popular, they are everywhere. The phone rings. Is it yours or your neighbor’s? Using a personal ringtone you always know when to react. 

  • Unobtrusiveness. I know some people always use the vibration mode of their phone, but I also know they don’t pick it up half of the time because they don’t feel it, and obviously don’t hear it. Using a gentle, unobtrusive ringtone will not annoy your friend or colleagues, and solves this problem.

  • Clarity. That being said you don’t want it to be too soft and gentle as you won’t hear it anymore. The frequency has to be right, as the human ear doesn’t respond to low sounds as well as to higher pitched sounds. Next to that, a sound that has the right frequency can be set to a lower level as our ears are more sensitive to it.

It’s not hard to design a ringtone that has all those properties. Yet in 2011 the stock iPhone ringtones tend to be completely unusable ‘funny’ ringtones like ‘Motorcycle’, ‘Old Car Horn’ or ‘Pinball’. As a sound designer, knowing Apples high standards for product design, I really have no clue why they don’t seem to pay any attention to these sounds and their functionality.  [Please note: this article was written in 2011, much has improved since then].

That’s why I created the original Cleartones (now called Cleartones Classic), a set of fifty ringtones that will make your world sound a bit better and your friends and colleagues less annoyed. They all comply with the properties mentioned above. The set can be bought from this website, but you can also try some of the ringtones before buying them by ‘paying’ with a tweet.

Joachim Baan of Anothersomething was kind enough to design the logo and provide me with image material that illustrates the way a ringtone should gently add a functional sound to the soundcape of our lives: A ripple in the sand of a curvy desert or a gentle cloud over a green forest.

 Hugo Verweij