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What is an M4R?

An M4R file is essentially a ringtone format used by Apple's iPhone. It's a snippet of an audio file that's been specially encoded to play when someone calls you. Think of it as a personal touch to your mobile device, allowing you to hear your favorite tune whenever someone reaches out. Wondering how to set your own M4R? Let's find out together.
Amy Raubenolt
Amy Raubenolt

An M4R is a proprietary file extension created by Apple® exclusively for use as a ringtone for the iPhone®. Like other similar file extensions, such as the M4A and MP4, it is a high quality, compressed audio file. M4R files are short audio files – typically 30-seconds or less. Users can purchase songs on iTunes® specifically as ringtones and the files they purchase will be M4R. To bypass the iTunes® application and its associated fees, users can convert MP3, M4A, MP4, and M4P files into M4R ringtones by using free, open-source online converters or by following instructions for conversion explained by a few different websites.

MP3 was a revolutionary file extension when the Fraunhofer Institute and Dieter Seitzer developed it in 1989 because it was able to dramatically shrink an audio file’s size through compression. The Fraunhofer Institute’s work grew out of the work of Karl Heinz Branden Burg, a mathematician and musician. Branden Burg had been working on a way to compress music since 1977. Eventually, most music files became stored as MP3s.

Ringtones for an iPhone are designated as M4R files.
Ringtones for an iPhone are designated as M4R files.

M4A and MP4, however, are becoming more popular. Unlike MP3 files, users do not pay licensing fees or royalties for M4A files. In addition, M4A and MP4 file types are able to capture higher quality sounds, making them more appealing for music applications.

The difference between M4A and MP4 files is that M4A files can contain only audio, but MP4 files comes from the extension MPEG-4, which can contain audio, video, or both audio and video content. An extension of M4A originally denoted unprotected MPEG-4 audio content only. Apple® originally introduced the M4A file type to describe files of the same compression type as MP4, but that lacked video. Therefore, M4A files are easier to convert to M4R files because they are already high-quality, compressed audio files.

There are many free, open-source M4R converters available online that work with varying levels of success, depending on how tech-savvy a user is. Users report more success using sequential plans for conversion than they do using the open-source converters. Apple’s® iTunes® application is reported as the easiest way to obtain M4R files for ringtones, but users generally are reluctant to pay a fee for new file types of songs they may already have in MP3 format.

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Discussion Comments


@bagley79 - I am just the opposite, and don't bother much with ringtones at all. I get annoyed when people leave their phones on in inappropriate places. Sometimes I have heard some crazy ringtones that would drive me crazy if I heard them all the time.

Most of the time my phone is on vibrate so I don't see much point of setting different ringtones.

I do understand choosing ringtones that are from favorite songs or clips. When I listen to the free ringtones that come with my phone, I am interested in only a couple of them.

I am also a bit overwhelmed by the technology of it all. I would have no idea where to start if I wanted something in M4R format.


I am one of those people who really gets in to what ringtones I have on my phone. All of my contacts that I talk to on a regular basis have their own customized ringtone.

Not only do I know who is calling just by the sound of the ringtone, but also have a song chosen that I associate with that person.

I used a M4R creator to get these specific ringtones without going through iTunes. I was even able to add fade-in and fade-out effects if I wanted to.

I know most people probably wouldn't go to all of this effort, but it is something I enjoy doing and like having different options when it comes to getting the ringtones I want on my iPhone.


There is a difference in the quality of sound for an MP3 file versus an M4R file. I am too lazy and too cheap to bother with it though.

Most of the ringtones I want I already have stored on iTunes. I don't want to pay for something that I have already paid for once.

When you are talking about something as short as a ringtone, the quality is not that big of a deal to me.

If this was for a professional application it would make sense to go with the higher quality. Then I would either go to the trouble of a M4R download, or pay for it through the iTunes route.

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    • Ringtones for an iPhone are designated as M4R files.
      By: bloomua
      Ringtones for an iPhone are designated as M4R files.