six colors

by Jason Snell & Dan Moren

Support this Site

Become a Six Colors member and get access to an exclusive podcast, private community, and monthly newsletter!

By Jason Snell

Wish List: New Mac Alert Sounds

Sounds in System 7.5.3

There used to be a Mac add-on called SoundMaster that let you wire different sound effects to different system functions. A sound for emptying the trash, a sound for shutting down, a sound for starting up—you name it, it could play it. And SoundMaster came with a bunch of sounds, including one that’s simply a guy’s voice saying the word “Beep.”

Along with the redesign of iOS 7, Apple lavished some attention on the ringtones and text tones in iOS, adding dozens of new ones and relegating the original sounds to classic status. It strikes me that the Mac could use a bit of an audio upgrade, too. Its alert sounds and sound effects haven’t changed in ages.

Sounds in Mac OS 9.2.

The Mac comes with 14 built-in alert sounds, all available from the Sound Effects tab of the Sound preference pane. One of them, Sosumi, dates from System 7. Three more—Glass, Purr, and Submarine—date from Mac OS 9. Six others (Basso, Frog, Funk, Ping, Pop, Tink) are from the earliest days of OS X. The newest ones seem to be Blow, Bottle, Hero, and Morse—and they’ve been around since at least Snow Leopard in 20091.

These alerts don’t just show up as system beeps. They also appear in other places, such as alert sounds when you’re reminded of calendar events. And they’re just so stale.

What I’m saying is, the Mac’s in need of an audio upgrade. Alert sounds aren’t the same as ringtones (ringtones can be very long), but wouldn’t it be nice if my Mac had access to the 40 alert tones Apple has hidden away at /​System/​Library/​PrivateFrameworks/​ToneLibrary.framework/​Versions/​A/​Resources/​AlertTones ? Why keep the Mac so bland, with only 14 dusty sound effects, when there are 40 new ones already on my Mac, but hidden away and not linked properly to the rest of the system?

Sounds in OS X El Capitan.

In the meantime, I encourage you to customize your Mac’s alert sound. Any AIFF or WAV file dropped into ~/Library/Sounds will appear in all the same places as all of the default alert sounds, including Calendar and the Sound preference pane. (Don’t make them too long, though.)

In that folder on my Mac is a sound file I’ve had since the early ’90s. It’s that SoundMaster sound (since converted into an AIFF) of the guy saying “Beep.” It helps make my Mac—all of them, in an unbroken chain from the spring of 1990 to the present day—feel like home.

One of the most fun things about the Mac is the ability to personalize it. Maybe it’s time for Apple to give macOS users a little more audio variety.

[Thanks to Stephen Hackett for digging out a couple of old Macs to check on the provenance of old alert sounds.]


  1. A reader says it’s been since “at least 10.4”, but I don’t have machines running older versions of OS X, so I can’t verify that. ↩

[If you appreciate articles like this one, help us continue doing Six Colors (and get some fun benefits) by becoming a Six Colors subscriber.]