While most cellular phones now support all three types of ringtones, it is good to know the difference between monophonicpolyphonic and true tone ringtones before spending bandwidth (or worst, money) on a ringtone version of the latest James Bond theme.

Monophonic ringtones

In the early days of cellular technology, most cell phones were only able to emit basic tones on different frequencies. The monophonic ringtone uses basic sequencing technology to play a song: it’s a one instrument, one note at a time thing. Monophonic ringtones are a good choice if you are looking for a clear, easy to discern ringtone for your cellular phone. Most monophonic ringtones are available for free or for very little money because they have since been outclassed by the more popular polyphonic and true tone ringtones.

Polyphonic ringtones

Like the monophonic ringtone, the polyphonic ringtone employs sequencing technology but to a much higher level. Instead of playing only one note at a time, up to 40 notes can play at the same time. Polyphonic ringtones can also emulate different musical instruments, simulating a digital orchestra in your pocket when your phone rings. Polyphonic ringtones lack one thing: the ability to use digitalized audio samples.

True tone (or real tone) ringtones

True tone ringtones, also called real tone or full music ringtones, can play actual music. Addressing the issue of instrument samples limitation, the true tone ringtone can play fully digitalized audio samples such as MP3s, including the vocals. While true tone ringtones can be highly personalized, they are often quieter and harder to discern in a busy environment so they might not be the best choice for someone who works in a shopping center. True tone ringtones gave birth to the most annoying ringtone ever created, the Crazy Frog ringtone.

The ringtone business is currently flourishing: worldwide, it’s a $4 billion market. With over 50% of all US cell phone users having downloaded a ringtone at least once, ringtones are also a great marketing tool for audio products. Do not be fooled by the possiblities a true tone ringtone offers you though: nothing will ever replace the stunning clarity of a monophonic ringtone!