MMW-21 -- Using PCM Audio in Ringtones

J@pan Inc Magazine Presents:
Commentary on the Week's Music Technology News

Issue No. 21
Tuesday, June 11, 2002


++ FEATURE: Using PCM Audio in Ringtones

- Xolox Returns
- Sony Releases New MP3-Capable CLIE

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++ FEATURE: Using PCM Audio in Ringtones

Just about every Japanese mobile phone released in the last year has
featured a number of sample ringtones as a selling point to
demonstrate its sound capabilities. Flip through these tunes on some
of the models, and you'll hear all kinds of sound effects, spoken
voices and even chorus singing on several popular songs. Phones that
allow this kind of sound data in their ringtones are called
ADPCM-compatible and make it possible for ringtone creators to
embed bits and pieces of raw WAV data into their songs and sound

Thanks to a recent project with a famous Japanese beer company (an
unlikely but nonetheless most welcome client for us), I received a
crash course on how to create this type of ringtone. It seems our
beer-making customer wanted to add a section to its Web site whereby
users can email ringtones to their phones containing sound effects
such as beer bottles opening, beer being poured, beer being
swallowed et cetera. And why on earth would anyone want to have this
kind of ringtone? I have no idea, but that's what our client wanted,
so we set about learning how to make sound effects for mobile phones.

Well, it turns out that putting a WAV file on the phone isn't as easy
as it looks. First, you have to do a lot of tweaking and massaging of
the original file, using a tool like Sonic Foundry's Sound Forge to
first resample the file to 16-bit 8KB mono and then editing out
anything you can to get the file size down. In some ways, this
process is similar to making Java applis for the phones, in that space
is of the essence and anything that isn't absolutely essential tends
to get discarded. Unfortunately, what's left is often little more
than a vague hint of what the original WAV file sounded like.

Next comes one of the particularly fun parts -- figuring out how to
configure the various MIDI-to-ringtone format conversion tools so
that they can accommodate PCM data. Like many things related to
mobile development, this involves a lot of trial and error and
deciphering of cryptic error messages. And then after going through
several iterations of checking and re-checking the manual and finally
getting the file to convert, I was dismayed to find that the
resulting ringtone file was still oversized and I would have to go
back to the process of cutting from the original WAV file.

This brings us to one of the major restrictions facing ringtone
creators who wish to use ADPCM data in their songs. Because the
maximum file size for downloaded ringtones is so small (about 6KB),
you are effectively limited to about two seconds of any usable audio
data. Of course, the sample songs featured on the phones may include
ADPCM of a whole group of backup singers doing the chorus to 'Hotel
California,' but that's only because those songs are built directly
into the phone and are never downloaded via a network. Ringtone
content providers and creators currently face a much tougher road if
they want to offer this kind of content on their services.

Finally, not all of the current phones support this kind of data
(even those of the same series from the same carrier). In fact, the
ability to use sound effects was one of the major selling points of
phones using Yamaha's MA2 chip, so among DoCoMo handsets, you will
find the capability only on the NEC and Fujitsu 16-voice models. On
the au/Tu-ka side, you'll find PCM functionality on any of the models
that support 16-voice SMAF, which includes all of the recent models
made by Panasonic, Hitachi and Kyocera. And of course J-Phone, which
is 100 percent in the SMAF camp, allows PCM data on all of its
16-voice and higher models.

In conclusion, the ability to use ADPCM data in a ringtone, while
interesting, is severely limited at present by restrictions imposed
by the carriers on the size of downloaded data. While the obstacles
are not insurmountable, content providers should be prepared
nonetheless for a fair amount of hassle before attempting to add
embedded sound effects and the like to their ringtone catalogs.

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++ NOTEWORTHY NEWS: Xolox Returns

** Amsterdam-based Xolox announced in a press release last week
that it was resurrecting its P2P file-sharing service with the
release of version 1.8. Encouraged by a recent ruling from the Dutch
Court of Appeals protecting the legality of P2P software, the company
has decided to resume operations, which had been suspended since
shortly after a November 2001 Amsterdam District Court ruling that
went against fellow Dutch P2P maker Kazaa. Xolox has gained a
reputation in P2P circles for offering a powerful file-sharing
service that is free of spyware and adware.

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** Sony Releases New MP3-capable CLIE

On June 8, Sony began selling the PEG-T650C, the latest addition to
its CLIE series of PDAs. The new CLIE features music-playing
functionality using the MP3 and ATRAC3 formats. Weighing 140g,
the PEG-T650C has dimensions of 71.8mm x 118mm x 12.5mm. Pricing is
open, but is expected to fall around US$325.

SUBSCRIBERS: 775 as of June 12, 2002

Written by: Steve Myers (
Steve Myers heads the Theta Group at Layer-8 Technologies,
which specializes in the development of music-related
software applications.

Edited by J@pan Inc editors: (


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