Adult-Proof Ringtones

Status: Undetermined
I've received quite a few emails about this. A British paper, metro.co.uk, reports that resourceful teenagers have devised a way to make the ringing of their cellphones inaudible to adults. The trick is that they've recorded the sound of the Mosquito, which is a device that emits ultrasonic tones inaudible to most people over the age of twenty-five, but quite audible, and rather annoying, to people under the age of 25:

Techno-savvy pupils have adapted the Mosquito alarm, used to drive teenage gangs away from shopping centres. They can receive calls and texts during lessons without teachers having the faintest idea what is going on. The alarm, which has been praised by police, is highly effective because its ultra-high sound can be heard only by youths but not by most people over 20. Schoolchildren have recorded the sound, which they named Teen Buzz, and spread it from phone to phone via text messages and Bluetooth technology. Now they can receive calls and texts during lessons without teachers having the faintest idea what is going on.

Can this be real? Well, the Mosquito is real enough (I posted about it back in November 2005), and it is true that young people can usually hear higher frequencies than older people because we lose the ability to hear high frequencies as we age. The question is whether cellphone speakers can generate these ultrasonic frequencies. Boing Boing posts a comment from one of their readers who swears that cellphone speakers would not be able to do this. However, another reader links to an article that contains an mp3 recording of the Mosquito sound. (When I listen to it I can't hear any high-pitched noise, just a bunch of street noise.) So if computer speakers can generate these frequencies, perhaps some high-end cellphone speakers also can. Seems plausible. In other words, I'm not yet willing to label this story as a hoax or false rumor, even though it does seem to be a bit far-fetched.

Technology

Posted on Thu May 25, 2006



Comments

This is true, my boyfriend was sent this as a ringtone. Its kind of like a high pitched buzzing not mosquito like but like the ringing in yr ears after being in a club all night. However im 26 and he is 28 and we hear it pretty well. When it rings u dont hear it clearly but you have this feeling of being annoyed by something high pitched after a while it becomes clearer as yr ears pick up the frequency. It drives our dog insane. I dont have it on my phone if i did i would try to set up a link to it to prove it.
Posted by merve  on  Fri May 26, 2006  at  12:11 AM
Alex, you are so lucky you can't hear the sound in that mp3. I'm over 20, but not by much (22) and I can hear it, but barely. Enough to give me a hell of a headache. That would be too torturous as a cell phone ring to be worth it.
Posted by Razela  in  Chicago, IL  on  Fri May 26, 2006  at  12:43 AM
I've heard something like this at work, a very high pitched whistle which sweeps through the top end frequencies, kinda sound like a plane taking off. Mind you Im 29, but I do still have fairly good top end at least for now.
Posted by Iridium  in  Middlesbrough  on  Fri May 26, 2006  at  01:07 AM
i'm 17 and i could only sort of hear that noise in the mp3. it was a weird noise that seemed to fade in and out. but like merve said i felt it more than heard it. though it definitely wasn't enough to give me a headache.
Posted by Geekmafia  in  Dublin, Ireland  on  Fri May 26, 2006  at  01:43 AM
Hmmm, I have one of those electronic ultrasonic mosquito repellent thingies that work in a similiar fashion. You normally can't hear it until you try to focus your hearing onto it. Then it gets annoying. I'm 24, and I still can hear it, although not as loud as I remembered (I got the device when I was in my late teens, used it for a few weeks, and then chucked it off in favor of the oldschool vapor mosquito repellents because #1 it's sorta irritating when you're trying to get your homework done, and #2 it didn't seem to work. I plugged it back in a few months ago, and at first I didn't hear anything, but I then focused my hearing and hear it, but it sounds softer than I remember it).
Posted by RAMChYLD  on  Fri May 26, 2006  at  02:08 AM
Yes i could hear it its like a pulsing high pitch squeak. It soulds like really high pitch crickets late at night. If you listen to it with a windows media player which i just heard it with at work, you can see portions of the visuals pulsing when the sound plays.
Posted by gericka  on  Fri May 26, 2006  at  02:09 AM
this seems like a rather pointless exercise. during my time at school (and now into my time at uni) i just leave my phone on silent, and set to vibrate. thus i can receive calls and texts without anyone hearing an alarm, even me!
Posted by Nick  in  Merrie Olde Englande  on  Fri May 26, 2006  at  03:48 AM
Just what I would have said Nick! I leave my phone on 'Silent' and if I get a message it'll just vibrate in my pocket. But people do play this noise at our school, solely to p**s off everyone else!
Posted by Alun  on  Fri May 26, 2006  at  04:51 AM
Could be my speakers, but I can't hear much except the crowd noise (I'm 18 - should I be worried?)
Posted by Owen  on  Fri May 26, 2006  at  05:03 AM
Owen, exactly what I wanted to point out: when playing the MP3, it depends on the quality of your speakers as well. I'll check it out tonight at home, where I have these kick-ass headphones (18 Hz - 26 kHz) -- I'm 31, curious whether I can pick it up.

Regarding a cell phone's capability to render a tone outside most people's audible gamut, I honestly doubt it, as per JS's comment on Boing Boing. Mind you, I'm not saying you can't encode that into an MP3, I'm only saying I doubt the phone could play it.
Posted by Gutza  on  Fri May 26, 2006  at  06:30 AM
I'm 35 and I can hear the high-pitched sound in that clip clearly, but only when I turn the volume way up. The pulsating noise would drive me mad quickly I guess - but hey, my cheapo no-brand pc and television emit about the same noise... Come to think of it, that might explain a lot about my behaviour these days.
Posted by robert.wood  on  Fri May 26, 2006  at  06:32 AM
I'm on the newer computer now...turned up I can hear it, but it's a bit like merve said, I feel it more than I can hear it. That could be seriously annoying.
Posted by Owen  on  Fri May 26, 2006  at  07:24 AM
I'm in my late 30s, and I can't hear a thing beyond the street noise. However, I did run the file through a frequency analyser, and there is something at the higher ends. It is not street noise, because that is accounted for by a white noise type spectrum at the lower frequencies; and there is a very definite gap between that and the higher, inaudible frequencies.

I reckon that there is truth behind this.
Posted by John  on  Fri May 26, 2006  at  10:05 AM
I'm 33 and unfortunately I can hear it. Comes thry my speakers fine. It is a high-pitched horrible repeating squeaky noise. Sounds mechanical, it doesn't sound at all like what I hear from mosquitos.

If I was trapped in a room full of cellphones making that noise, people would die.
Posted by Sensitive Ears  on  Fri May 26, 2006  at  10:33 AM
Tried it out, and I couldn't hear it (I'm almost 34) but neither could my 4 yr old son. We have good quality speakers on the comp, so I dunno.
Posted by Winona  in  USA  on  Fri May 26, 2006  at  10:40 AM
Ok, got home. I can also hear it loud and clear with the headphones -- pulsating and annoying as described, but definitely as a sound, not only as a feeling.

And yes, I also needed to turn up the volume. But I realized I only needed to turn up the volume as to make the street noise sound "natural" -- that MP3's level is lower than your average sound file's.
Posted by Gutza  on  Fri May 26, 2006  at  10:50 AM
I can hear it clearly, and it's rather loud. it is artificial, alternating between 2 frequencies, the highest at the edge of the human hearing.

I'm slightly over twenty and i can even hear the lowest frequencies of a bat (not the actual hunting frequency, but the 'powering-up' sound), although it gets less clear every year.

(It is really annoying when you're doing a lab experiment about frequenties: 20.000Hz, loud enough for a frequency analiser, hurts a lot when you can hear it clearly)

Being able to hear such high frequencies is also a bit genetic, I think. My father could hear the frequency of television tubes (16.000Hz) up to his mid-fourties. While a younger friend of mine can't even hear it now.

About the speakers, some high-end ones go up to 48.000Hz, but thats not the actual reading, but it has something to do with richness of sound or something. (Should ask an audio-specialist or so)
Posted by FrostBird  on  Fri May 26, 2006  at  11:38 AM
I am 35 almost 36 and I could hear it plain as day over my PC speakers (fairly decent Yamaha setup).

Also, I could only hear it in my right ear....so facing the speakers, I hear it fine, turning to the left so that my right ear faces the speaker, once again I hear it however, turn to the right so my left ear is facing the speakers and the sound magically disappears.

To me it sounds like the worlds most annoying cricket. (much higher pitched than a crickets "chirp" but thats the closest comparison I can come up with).

Also, MP3's are compressed by removing frequencies beyond the hearing range of most humans, whether or not the frequency "The Mosquito" uses is one of those, I don't know.
Posted by Chuck  in  Rhode Island  on  Fri May 26, 2006  at  11:52 AM
FrostBird, that's interesting -- I could only hear a single tone, going on and off, as opposed to two alternating tones. Maybe others hear the same, given their description of what they heard (a pulsating high frequency sound.)
Posted by Gutza  on  Fri May 26, 2006  at  12:31 PM
Oh my goodness. That MP3 gave me an instant headache. That's the most annoying thing EVER!
Posted by Dracul  on  Fri May 26, 2006  at  01:38 PM
I can hear it fine (I'm 15). I don't think that would deter many criminals, though. Sounds like something that you'd just tune out after awhile.
Posted by Lord Tici Taci  on  Fri May 26, 2006  at  02:06 PM
Anyone know anywhere where the sound can be downloaded without the background noise? I've definitely heard it before on it's own...
Posted by Alun  on  Fri May 26, 2006  at  02:49 PM
I'm 36 and I could hear it clearly through my no-name speakers. It was an annoying pulsating sort of sound. My dog in the other room started barking when I played it and ran in here to see what it was, even though it wasn't turned up particularly loud - same volume as the music I had just been listening to. I do have good hearing in the higher ranges though, and can always hear if the TV has been left on on a blank screen (like after we turn the DVD player off but leave the TV on the aux in channel), from the high pitched hum it makes. My husband can't hear it at all (the TV or the MP3 noise).
Posted by Kristen55  on  Fri May 26, 2006  at  03:07 PM
I'm 13 and I can't hear a damn thing... should this be worrying?
Posted by Daisy  on  Fri May 26, 2006  at  05:15 PM
I can'thear it, but my six year old immediatel asked what the 'sqeakig' noise was.
Posted by Jennifer Emick  on  Fri May 26, 2006  at  05:29 PM
I am 23 and can hear the annoying high pitched tone... My ten year old niece came out of the back bedroom when it played and said "What's that noise?" and my newborn son perked up and then started to fuss. I guess it's true that the younger you are the better you hear.
Posted by Franky  on  Fri May 26, 2006  at  05:41 PM
I'm 18 and I can hear it loudly and I can't even listen to the whole track because it hurts my ears so much. Yikes. That IS quite possibly the most annoying thing ever.
Posted by Harrison  on  Fri May 26, 2006  at  06:05 PM
Ugh. I am a teen and I can hear it. That would make the worst ringtone ever. Besides, most of my teachers are in their 20s.
Posted by someone  on  Fri May 26, 2006  at  07:04 PM
I'm 18 and I could hear it plainly. It didn't annoy me too much but since I've heard it the back of my skull has a weird tingling feeling. But if I heard this in public I think I'd go insane trying to find out where it was coming from.
Posted by Soldant  on  Fri May 26, 2006  at  09:50 PM
I'm 25 and I believe I heard it based on the descriptions... a light chirping noise that can give you headache... but it was faint. Now can someone explain exactly why we're supposed to lose the ability to hear high pitched sounds as we age?
Posted by Shadow Fraggle  on  Fri May 26, 2006  at  10:24 PM
i'm 25, and i can hear it. It fades in and out, but it does not cause headache to me(listened to it for 5 minutes now) and infact does not really annoy me even!
Posted by frank  on  Sat May 27, 2006  at  02:46 AM


This is a spectrogram of the tone in it.

I am 36 and hear it without trouble when I somewhat turn up the speaker volume. A very high-pitched, somewhat chirping tone.
Posted by LaMa  in  Europe  on  Sat May 27, 2006  at  03:48 AM
And I too am able to hear bats by the way.
Posted by LaMa  in  Europe  on  Sat May 27, 2006  at  03:50 AM
I'm 26, but I can hear the Mosquito in the mp3, although barely.

This worries me that people like me who have full time jobs and never hang in gangs and work for a living will be chased away from places that we have a right to be in.

At any rate, since some phones have sound system intended to play back mp3's then there is no reason whatsoever why it cannot be used as a ringtone.

Of course since some teachers are around my age, those using it in this manner are likely to be caught, sooner or later.
Posted by catwhowalksbyhimself  on  Sat May 27, 2006  at  06:37 AM
I'm 36 and I couldn't hear a thing, untill i turnedth bass right down (all the way) and the treble right up (all the way). Then i could just make out a very very high pitched squeak that was annoying. I've got good gear so i am unsure if this would come through on a phone. Certainly would such that I could hear it anyway 😉
Posted by Bern  on  Sat May 27, 2006  at  08:54 AM
I could hear it plainly on my speakers...an annoying pulsating sort of ringing in my ears. I'm 39, so I'm pleasantly surprised.
Posted by Jaber  on  Sat May 27, 2006  at  06:18 PM
I'm 32 and I can hear it. It is quite annoying and I don't know if I'd ever hear it if the cell phone was in my pocket.

Sounds just like my old cheapy TV set.

Even now after I've turned off the MP3 my ears are still ringing.
Posted by Simon  on  Sat May 27, 2006  at  06:39 PM
i am 36 and i could not hear anything but static and laughter with a clanging noise in the background. my daughter who is almost 4, couldn't hear anything other than that, either. my dog, who is 5, didn't even prick up his ears.
not that i don't believe you all, but probably my speakers just couldn't handle it. they are crap.
Posted by thephrog  on  Sat May 27, 2006  at  06:53 PM
I can hear it chrystal clear and it drives my dog crazy. I am a legally blind individual though so my hearing is very adapted. I often get headaches fromt he soun of security alarms, light systems, etc. in stores.
Posted by tim  on  Sat May 27, 2006  at  10:41 PM
OMG! That is SERIOUSLY annoying!

I'm 18 and i've got some seriously good hearing, regardless of the fact that i blast my music-etc.

I'd have to say though, if someone played that tone in a confined space and i couldn't switch it off, i'd go insane pretty darn quick. It's so darn hi-pitched!

I need to clean up the audio file a bit but i'm thinking about using this to deter yobs from my local stores whenever i go to pick up the paper or something. It'd be good to use if i had some headphones or earplugs to block the sound out with.

Methinks it's time for a little mayhem! :D
Posted by NJ  on  Sat May 27, 2006  at  11:43 PM
I'm 36, my partner is 45, and we can both hear it quite clearly. (Note that when we were younger we were both very irritated by things like TV hum and dog whistles.)

It hurts my ears - little stabby pains. He says he feels it more than hears it and it seems to sorta resonate through his sinuses. We agree it's quite annoying.

It's quite possible that the sound as heard in an mp3 differs substantially from the original. In any case, I find the product concept distasteful and wish adults would quit trying to drive teens away from public spaces whilst providing no alternatives for entertainment or socializing.
Posted by drogheda  on  Sun May 28, 2006  at  01:43 AM
Heard this story on NPR last week (in other words, this is old news). They did an interview with the inventor of the mosquito repellent sound and his daughter (from England, of course). Using the ringtone in class to get instant messages without tipping off their teachers. Vibrating phones can still be heard, so this works. They claim that most teachers over 30 do not hear it, but younger ones do and "bust" them. Check it out yourself at NPR.org...
Posted by Mike  on  Sun May 28, 2006  at  12:03 PM
Keep in mind, this was promoted as a mosquito and TEENAGER repellent in England. They say it works too...
Posted by Mike Again  on  Sun May 28, 2006  at  12:05 PM
I'm 27 and I can hear it. It drills my head.
Posted by Dorima  on  Sun May 28, 2006  at  06:47 PM
Ugh, the only thing I could hear was that annoying, high-pitched pulsing. I'm 18, and already kind of sensitive to sound, so this would DEFINATELY drive me crazy.
Posted by Lauren  on  Sun May 28, 2006  at  08:09 PM
I didn't ever listen to it. I hear high pitched whiney noises all day long. It's called having a two year old.

Is it the same sound that comes from general electronics? I go crazy hearing that.
Posted by Maegan  in  Tampa, FL - USA  on  Mon May 29, 2006  at  05:50 AM
You can download generated sine audio directly to file and try to listen:

http://syslog.eu/index.php/2006/05/29/ucitele_neslysi_vyzvaneni_mobilu

I am able to hear 15 kHz.
Posted by Sniff  on  Mon May 29, 2006  at  06:29 AM
About 2 weeks ago, the inventor of the teenage deterrent device and a woman denouncing the lack of knowledge of it's long term effects were on BBC Breakfast time.

On the assumption they weren't hoaxed, it's possbile. The phone speakers just have to be up to the job.
Posted by playtime  on  Tue May 30, 2006  at  05:09 PM
im 40 and i can hear the mosquito sound. i'm surprised that it is reproduced by an mp3, since i'd have thought it cuts off around 20k. perhaps its not a simple frequency.

i do have to turn up the sound to hear it. its more of a sensation than a sound. i used to get this a lot with tv sets and monitors.

i haven't tried this on a phone, whether it works there is another story. however, the sound is very undirectional and would easily be muffled by pockets.
Posted by clinicallyobeast  on  Sun Jun 04, 2006  at  07:15 PM
Yeah.... Comes out loud and clear on my cell... well... for me. My parents can't hear it but my brother and I can. (ages 22 and 17). I am going to get a real kick out of this with my friends at school! It is really annoying when it is played on computer speakers but on the cell it is just a soft high frequence. I don't think it will produce any headaches unless it is listened to in excess. Oh... I didn't use the mosquito thing. I just downloaded a pure 1800 Hz Sine wave mp3. http://www.bbc.co.uk/wiltshire/audio/mosquito_sound.mp3
Posted by Ryan  on  Tue Jun 06, 2006  at  07:36 PM
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