Adult-Proof Ringtones

Status: Undetermined
I've received quite a few emails about this. A British paper,, 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.


Posted on Thu May 25, 2006


For those of you who want to play with this sound, I made a WAV file of a 17KHz tone. You can download it here:

Dont' forget that MP3 files use lossey compression and that cell phones probably can't recreate 17000 Hz sounds accurately.

Posted by Jerry Whiting  in  Seattle  on  Mon Jun 12, 2006  at  04:31 PM
I'm 38, and I couldn't hear anything except the street noises, although maybe having the TV on at the time covered it up. TV equipment makes an audible hum for me. But I sure did get a headache almost immediately when I put my ears next to the computer speakers.
Posted by Phoenix  in  Nebraska  on  Mon Jun 12, 2006  at  06:06 PM
here's a url of the sound:
Posted by Weeso  in  Dearborn  on  Mon Jun 12, 2006  at  06:36 PM
> wish adults would quit trying to drive teens away
> from public spaces whilst providing no alternatives
> for entertainment or socializing.

Now who's stereotyping whom here? Not all adults are trying to drive teens away, and not all adults are opposed to providing alternatives. (Yes, yes, I know that you claim to be closer to middle-age than teenage. But that only reinforces my conviction that you ought to know better.)

Here's the problem: The adults who are using the Mosquito are generally doing it for specific and generally responsible reasons -- to reduce shoplifting (a primarily teen/young adult sport), to reduce perceived intimidation of paying customers (some frail elderly people will go to other stores than shoulder their way past "mean-looking" teens and young adults), to reduce vandalism (also a primarily teen/young adult sport).

Even if you don't like the particular method chosen, you can hardly fault a convenience store for trying to minimize thefts, can you?

The adults who ought to be providing the alternatives are the ones who are failing here. The store owner shouldn't have to ante up for new windows to replace the broken ones AND pay for a "teen center" to 'provide constructive alternatives' while the teens, parents and politicians all sit on their rear ends.

In my books, these are the people who should be solving the fundamental problem (which I might define as too much extra time and energy, combined with too little impulse control (an unfortunate biological reality) but that's just the "I grew up so busy on a farm that I can't believe these kids actually have enough time to get in trouble" in me).

For that matter, why don't the teens hang out at home? Surely in a group of a dozen teens you can come up with ONE person who's parents aren't homeless/abusive/hateful and would be happy to let the kids come over for a visit instead of standing on the street corner.

(Perhaps this idea fails for the same reason that taxpayer-supported teen centers usually fail: the taxpayer demands a certain level of adult supervision and education content, and shortly after it opens to great fanfare, the teens refuse to show up because it's no more fun than going to school.)

I see these as completely separate issues: the adults who suffer financial losses from antisocial teen behavior have NO special responsibility for solving the kids' fundamental problems. They just have to protect their own businesses in the manner of their choosing, whether that's Mozart, the Mosquito, or a private security staff.

The teens, parents, and politicians, however, should be dealing with this problem no matter what the business owner is doing. The fundamental problem belongs to them.
Posted by Ann  in  California  on  Mon Jun 12, 2006  at  06:50 PM
wow i could totally hear it! i must have good hearing, and my mom cant hear it. its really cool but its givin me a bit of a headache. where can you download it?
Posted by naomie  in  cali  on  Mon Jun 12, 2006  at  06:51 PM
OMG THAT IS SOOO ANNOYING!! I just read an article on that was concerning this new ringtone and how it fooled adults, but I didn't believe it myself. Curious as I am, I immediately went on google and tried to find it. At this one site, (whose URL I have completely forgotten), I was unable to hear it at all. However, when I came here just now, I could hear it quite clearly on low with my speakers. I'm only 17, so maybe it's a good thing that I can hear it. Wow, I think if I set that as my ringtone, I'd annoy the hell out of my classmates when my phone received a message or a call. But other than that, that's what the "silent" or "vibrate" mode is for.
Posted by Mina  in  Calgary  on  Mon Jun 12, 2006  at  07:31 PM
I'm 17 and my little brother is 12, we both heard it clearly in the background of that mp3, it was quite annoying. My dad, however, is 46, and could not hear anything out of ordinary street noises. So I guess it works on mp3, so it obviously works on phones. Teens wouldn't be using them in class and being distruptive if senile shopkeepers didn't need to drive them away by playing pesky noises.
Posted by Colin  in  New Jersey, USA  on  Mon Jun 12, 2006  at  08:40 PM
I'm 15 and I can hear the sound clearly, my mother is 54 however and can only hear the other noises in the background. I even let her listen to it through my headphones and she still says she can't hear anything unusual. It definately sounds like a really high pitched, long, pulsing squeek sound.
Posted by Young  on  Mon Jun 12, 2006  at  11:03 PM
I'm 30 and could hear it just fine,i can definetly see how it would get really annoying.
It does sort of sound like someone put a tape recorder out in the middle of a field to record cricket sounds.
Not very impressed,and doubt it'll be around for very long.
people enjoy playing music ringtones to much.
Posted by lokie  in  In a drum  on  Mon Jun 12, 2006  at  11:28 PM
I'm 12 and I didn't hear it, but my younger brother (who's 10, btw) heard it. ;|
Posted by Almas  in  Singapore  on  Tue Jun 13, 2006  at  12:46 AM
It does sort of sound like someone put a tape recorder out in the middle of a field to record cricket sounds.

Erk, if that's true (I haven't listened to any of the recordings, since I don't have any speakers or headphones attached to my computer), then I've been listening to that for the past 1 and a half days at work. Wretched air conditioning.
Posted by Smerk  in  to mischief  on  Tue Jun 13, 2006  at  12:56 AM
I'm 40, and I can hear that damn thing too well.
Posted by Patrick McKinnion  in  Doha, Qatar  on  Tue Jun 13, 2006  at  01:18 AM
My mobile (N6630) doesn't play this file. It says unsupported file format, even tried with OggPlay.
Posted by Saggy  on  Tue Jun 13, 2006  at  05:48 AM
suprise... I didn
Posted by Kitty  in  i  on  Tue Jun 13, 2006  at  06:04 AM
Hmm.... Well, for what it's worth, I used a tone generator to test my hearing, I heard the ringtone fine on the TV, it was apparently somewhere in the 13500-14000 Hz range, NOT even 15000, I'm fairly sure. Tested my own ears using my 'puter and mediocre speakers, I can detect somewhere up to maybe a bit over 20000, start to be able to actually "hear a tone" at just a little above 14000, with progessive lose of ability to detect tone. Was wathing Good Morning America, did the test with the TV in the background with volume at normal easy to hear level, TV playing, too. Lowest range I can hear good is down into the high 30's.

I'm 44 in July '06
Posted by Joey  in  Winter Park, FL  on  Tue Jun 13, 2006  at  06:08 AM
the sound was meant to be a teen repellent, but as it seems more than just teens can hear, plus its really not that bad, no worse than the ringing in ones ears
o ive also noticed that it really only takes your hands to block the sound, so much for teen repellent
Posted by Vlad the Impaler  on  Tue Jun 13, 2006  at  10:34 AM
I'm 43, I've had the ring tone on my phone for weeks. I use it as the ring tone for when my ex-wife calls. My dad can hear it and he's in his 70s. So I consider this one busted, hearing loss is age related but also depends on the person and their enviroment and how it affects them over time.

Hey, maybe when cellphones can play much higher frequencies, we can make ring tones for dogs. smile
Posted by Brian  in  Irvine, CA  on  Tue Jun 13, 2006  at  10:45 AM
Maybe I am just lucky, but I sampled these ringtones, including the one that states most people can't hear it. I can hear them, I must admit they are annoying and I did have to turn up the volume on my speakers. The kicker is I just turned 60!
Posted by roger  in  hawaii  on  Tue Jun 13, 2006  at  12:01 PM
how do you download the mp3 to your phone? my phone is capable i know but i don't know how to do it. do i browse to the website directly from my phone? will it download that way?
Posted by Natasha  in  us  on  Tue Jun 13, 2006  at  12:46 PM
Hey, I'm 39 years old and about to be 40 in July, I can hear this noise. It is the same noise that is emitted from a television set that's recently been turned on. Only difference is that this particular sample is a distinct pulsating emission. I guess you can say that I'm still young!!
Posted by Melvin Jennings  on  Tue Jun 13, 2006  at  02:38 PM
I am 27 and my husband had it on his phone and asked if I could here it. It hurt my ears so bad I had to leave the room. And I could still here it in the other room. It was very anoying. My husband said he could only here it if the phone was close to his ears.
Posted by Jess  in  Tulsa  on  Tue Jun 13, 2006  at  03:56 PM
I'm 16 and i can hear the buzz really clearly; in fact, my phone can play the noise fine. I can hear the noise normally from across the football field at my school. It can get annoying if listened to a lot, but it doesn't give me a headache.
Posted by Anonymous  on  Tue Jun 13, 2006  at  05:49 PM
I'm in my thirties and could only hear the laughter; the banging noise; the ringing in my ears; my cat snoring; and the small voice whispering "kill them all" again and again.
Posted by Mike  on  Tue Jun 13, 2006  at  08:24 PM
Well, I can't hear it but my dog sure can. I played it twice and she started barking and immediately rushed to the window. She continued until I stopped. It must be annoying to dogs too.
Posted by Jayjay  in  Florida  on  Tue Jun 13, 2006  at  08:38 PM
I'm only 13.

It is almost like I can't really hear it when I play it. Does it need to be played fairly loud? I guess as said before, it's probably my speakers. But I want to be sure.

My ears hurt after it played. But I didn't notice really any ringing or... "chirping".

Ehh... Normal?
Posted by Eric  in  Wisconsin  on  Tue Jun 13, 2006  at  10:05 PM
well i am 13 and i can hear the noise its like a very high ptched cricket noise and i tryed it on my dad a 40 yerold man and he cant hear it but me and my 3 sisters can
Posted by kma  on  Wed Jun 14, 2006  at  03:27 PM
I am 14 and i just played it. I can hear it very clear but my dad sure cant (he's 39) and i just wanna know how to put it on my phone so i an annoy my friends LOL
Posted by Alex  on  Thu Jun 15, 2006  at  03:03 AM
You can download it right to your cell phone here
Posted by Gary  in  Menominee, MI  on  Thu Jun 15, 2006  at  09:17 PM
I played it to a 31 year old and he could hear it alright...
Posted by Bingo  in  Australia  on  Fri Jun 16, 2006  at  12:33 AM
ok so im 17, and i can hear it, with a nice headache to follow. but my 67 yr old grandmother and 37 yr old father can hear it. so that really breaks the trend. tongue wink
Posted by Chris  in  Canton Mass.  on  Sat Jun 17, 2006  at  09:20 AM
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