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October 31, 2014

New tones for Lumia

Similar to how our shiny and bright Lumia smartphones complement our style, the ringtones we choose help define our personality. Thanks to our soulful sound specialists, you have plenty of tunes to flaunt.

The recently launched Lumia 830, Lumia 735 and Lumia 730 come with a freshly updated ringtone set, thanks to Tapio Hakanen, Head of Phones Sound Design at Microsoft and Aleksi Eeben, Principal Sound Designer and the creative lead for this year’s update.

We asked Tapio and Aleksi about creating the new ringtones.

What was the idea behind these ringtones? What’s your process for composing new tones?

Tapio: We have an internal sound design team who focus on human-centric and people-centric sound design.

The basic thinking is that when people buy Microsoft Lumia phones, everyone will find a tone that they are comfortable having – whether it is ringtones or alarm clock or notification sounds.

For this, we collect information from people across the world and refer to different studies which help us form what audio sets we wish to have.

How do you go about creating new versions of existing ringtones, like “Cats”?

Aleksi: There is a story behind these cats. For the first tone, which was recorded three years ago, we only had one meow as at the time I only had one cat.

Then for this new version called “Two Cats”, we have a lot more meows and some purring featuring the two cats I now have at home.


Usually they talk a lot, but when I approached them with a portable recorder they went totally silent. It took quite some patience, and both animal attendant and sound designer skills to capture just the right meows. Offering quality cat food supply for a year helped and after some hard negotiations we finally got their paw signatures in the voice actor contract.

Tapio: It is very cute.

Aleksi: No matter what the sound is, we prefer the real thing as opposed to a sound library effect or a sample. Real orchestra, real acoustic jazz band, real sauna, real wind chimes, real cats.

For example this simple ringing sound was actually played by a professional percussionist, not a synthesizer. Maybe you couldn’t recognize the difference, but you can feel it.

Where do you get inspiration to create the tones?

Aleksi: Overall, we must be on top of the current trends in music and sound design, and we try to follow what sounds people are actually choosing as their ringtones. A whole lot can feed in into the creative process and we then try to complete sets that are just the right size and still cater to most people.

Some sounds may age gracefully, but for example electronic music styles come and go so quickly that we refresh those more often.

In the end it also needs some personal touch, because I think that is the only way the sounds can become meaningful to someone else. I have been a jazz fan since my teens and for the first time, as a part of this year’s tones update, I got to work with an acoustic jazz band.


Tapio: We need to be world-class experts in composition and music production, music trends, and at the same time you need to draw inspiration from everyday life around you. That’s the way it works for me. Like this one time, I was watching modern ballet in Helsinki and there were a lot of inspiring themes for a musician. Being curious and observant helps.

Do you think ringtones should be hummable?

Tapio: I guess historically ringtones have been very music-like and catchy. But now we see the trend is going towards simple, functional and discreet, but this is also very geographical.

For example people in the U.S. prefer minimalistic and discreet, overall. While in China, people like more lively ringtones with more character.

Aleksi: It is important to design tones that are simple enough. Users also need quieter and less distracting tones like this one here, one of my early hits originally from 2005.

Which is your personal favorite from this 2015 collection?

Tapio: “Bird Box. It was recorded with the Bratislava Symphony Orchestra three years ago, but it still sounds fresh and is the perfect example of being minimal yet with plenty of emotion. I was using this as my ringtone, but now I have changed it to Concierge.

Aleksi: My favorite has got to be “That girl from Copenhagen.” It is close to one of our much loved ringtone “Slow Coffee”, but now featuring a female jazz singer. I have always had a weak spot for them.

Sounds for SMS, alarms, emails, ringtones and other systems are constantly evolving and yet remain the same. How do you achieve this balance?

Tapio: The essence of these default tones – the sounds that every device has out of the box for email, calendar, SMS and alarm clock – have been kept the same. The reason is that it takes little bit of learning to understand these different sounds. By keeping them the same or similar, it will be easier for people who get a new Lumia device to recognize the sounds for a text message and similarly with a calendar notification that it’s a calendar alert.

The design has followed the direction of becoming more refined, more pure, simple and even minimalistic.

How do you create ringtones to appeal to different cultures around the world, for example a diverse country such as India.

Aleksi: My colleague Henry Daw leads “Sounds of the World” project, where we work with students at music schools around the globe producing ringtones for regional variants, but that’s a story in itself. We did however take two world music flavored tones from that project also into the global 2015 collection.

What is the next evolutionary step in ringtones for Lumia smartphones?

Aleksi: One goal has always been to reflect the industrial design of our phones.

For example, if you have a Lumia 930, this is the kind of sound that matches the industrial design, specifically the metal frame of that phone. And this next tone reflects the colorful side of the device, the bright orange or green backplate and the rounded corners.

The complete Tones 2015 can be heard on our SoundCloud page here.

What’s your favorite tone? Let us know and stay tuned for more.