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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.
Categories: Technology
Posted by The Curator on Fri May 26, 2006
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  04:46 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  05:48 AM
And I too am able to hear bats by the way.
Posted by LaMa  in  Europe  on  Sat May 27, 2006  at  05:50 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  08:37 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 wink
Posted by Bern  in  Sydney  on  Sat May 27, 2006  at  10:54 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  in  Atlanta GA  on  Sat May 27, 2006  at  08:18 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  in  PEI  on  Sat May 27, 2006  at  08:39 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  in  CA USA  on  Sat May 27, 2006  at  08:53 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  Sun May 28, 2006  at  12:41 AM
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  in  London  on  Sun May 28, 2006  at  01:43 AM
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  in  California  on  Sun May 28, 2006  at  03:43 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  in  Chicago Il  on  Sun May 28, 2006  at  02:03 PM
Keep in mind, this was promoted as a mosquito and TEENAGER repellent in England. They say it works too...
Posted by Mike Again  in  Chicago IL  on  Sun May 28, 2006  at  02:05 PM
I'm 27 and I can hear it. It drills my head.
Posted by Dorima  on  Sun May 28, 2006  at  08:47 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  10:09 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  07:50 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  08:29 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  in  Manchester, UK  on  Tue May 30, 2006  at  07:09 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  in  UK  on  Sun Jun 04, 2006  at  09:15 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  in  Vacaville  on  Tue Jun 06, 2006  at  09:36 PM
This thing is fun, i tried all of them and my parents couldnt hear any of them. But it drove my sister crazy. I think this is more fun this vibration because you can hear it and no one else can. Thats why its fun. For your information i am 18, my sis is 16. lots of fun
Posted by Eddie III  in  California  on  Wed Jun 07, 2006  at  04:39 PM
I'm almost 40 years old and can hear it, but only with the computer sound at max and my headphones on. It sounds like a pulsed chirping sound to me (the kids in the background are much louder than the sound).

Assuming that the sound can get through to kids when they're not paying attention to anything in class, I can see how this would be a problem (except for you guys who use it in class <g>).
Posted by Carlos  in  Southern California, USA  on  Mon Jun 12, 2006  at  11:16 AM
Dang, I'm 34 and I can't hear it for squat. Maybe that's a good thing. I did play it with Windows Media Player and turned on the graphic bar visualization and you can clearly see the high-pitched frequencies driving up the bars on the far end. When someone bangs against a chain link fence it sends the bars up that are at just a slightly lower frequency, and I can hear that, but I can't hear any of the squealing cricket/mosquito sound. I've got a great 5.1 DD setup so I'm sure the system will reproduce it -- guess I'm just too old to "enjoy" it. Looks like I'm stuck with using the vibrate option for my top secret voicemails. <grin>
Posted by Markus  on  Mon Jun 12, 2006  at  11:23 AM
I couldn't hear the linked sound in the article above but I could hear the high frequency 'repellent' sound on NPR's website -- here's a link to that one -- http://download.npr.org/anon.npr-mp3/atc/atc_teenbuzz.mp3

Annoying as all get up when you turn your speakers to full volume. I'm 34 though and I would refuse to shop at any store that played this annoying sound outside of its store.
Posted by Mark  on  Mon Jun 12, 2006  at  11:37 AM
Im 37 and I could hear the pitched bussing on my headset, pretty well. Then again, I have 10/20 vision too. Funny I can read what is on my co-workers computer screens from dam near across the room.
Posted by Not your averge old guy  in  Ohio, USA  on  Mon Jun 12, 2006  at  12:39 PM
That is very very annoying. I'm 23 and I can hear it with my volume half down it drives me absolutely insane.

Though I've always had good hearing, selective, but good. I've got the type of hearing that can tell a TV is on at the other end of the house even if its muted. Drives me nutz too.

It would definately keep me from shopping there.
Posted by me  on  Mon Jun 12, 2006  at  03:01 PM
I am in my early 30's and I can hear the sound, like a high pitch chirp. I agree, if I were in a room of cellphones with this tone, It will not be pretty.
Posted by Michelle Correia  in  Hilo, HI  on  Mon Jun 12, 2006  at  03:08 PM
I am 33 and I heard the buzz with my volume turned almost off. It really gave me a headache. As a teacher, if I heard the noise I would really lose it. I would require all phones off and on my desk, and lots of parents would be notified.
Posted by Michelle Correia  in  Hilo, HI  on  Mon Jun 12, 2006  at  03:16 PM
I am 28 and at first I could not hear it but could feel it in my ears and also gave me a headache with my volume set at my normal level. But I have 3 children ages 7, 5 & 5 and they all heard it instantly. My oldest daughter said it was hurting her head. And they described it the same way everyone else has, a loud pulsating chirping noise. Well I then turned my speakers all the way up and I was able to hear it a little bit. I also went to that other site someone on here recommended and I instantly heard that, loud and clear! I think I would shot someone who had a ringtone like that!
Posted by Shannon  in  Augusta Ga  on  Mon Jun 12, 2006  at  05:07 PM
The link on the original blog is a crappy version. The noise is almost completely drowned out by the street noise. If that were to go off in a classroom, the teacher may not be able to hear the high pitched part, but would definitely hear the street noise. Here is a better recording of the ringtone..... http://graphics.nytimes.com/packages/audio/nyregion/20060610_RINGTONE.mp3
Posted by Hunt  on  Mon Jun 12, 2006  at  05:35 PM
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