iPhone alarm sounds ranked from Mario to Mariah

Apple CEO Tim Cook famously starts his day at 3:45 a.m. — 4:30 a.m., if he needs some extra shut-eye — and by all accounts, it sounds like a relatively pleasant experience. He’s got enough pep in his step to sift through 700 to 800 emails, hit the gym, and grab a cup of coffee at Starbucks all before making his way over to Apple Park.

But we’ve got one really important question about all that: What iPhone alarm sound is Tim Cook waking up to? Because it simply cannot be Radar.

Anyone who’s ever woken up to that sharp, shrill tone knows how sick and twisted Apple was for choosing it as the default. People on TikTok say these “bells of hell” trigger their fight-or-flight response and make their dogs flinch. My parrot lets out a “Danger!” screech whenever he hears it. I would argue that it’s the Wario of Samsung phones’ sing-songy default alarm.

Most tones that consistently yank you out of a state of unconsciousness can become annoying over time (it’s a Pavlovian thing), but one expert says there are several reasons why Radar elicits such negative responses.

“[Radar] is a rhythmic temporal sequence — similar to many alarms utilized in emergency contexts,” Dr. Stuart McFarlane, a researcher in auditory perception and cognition at Australia’s Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, it’s “muted, metallic bell type of sound” further contributes to this anxiety-inducing association.

The sound of the iPhone alarm as a ringtone makes my skin crawl

Radar is also a repetitive sequence of loud tones followed by softer tones, which doesn’t help its case. “Loud signals are perceived to be more threatening than softer…. Thus, this design may be imagined as something scaring us, then hiding,” McFarlane said, adding that “unpleasant” and stressful-sounding alarms like it “can negatively impact our mood and day’s outlook.”

McFarlane has co-authored several studies about the effects of certain alarm tones on sleep inertia, or morning grogginess, and his research suggests that melodic alarms are better at stirring us out of a state of unconsciousness than obnoxious “beep-beep-beep” tones like Radar. This recently led him to develop an experimental alarm called “Dawn Birds Deliberate” that taps into elements of musical theory like tempo, frequency, and phrasing for a more pleasant and gradual waking experience. It’s “imagined as a conversation between two dawn birds deliberating the beautiful sunrise and the day to come” (his words), and it really is quite lovely.

You can buy “Dawn Birds Deliberate” for a few bucks from the iTunes Store and Bandcamp, or just keep reading to see ranking of 10 standout alarms that are already pre-loaded in your iPhone’s ringtone library. Plenty of them are eons better than Radar, but shockingly, it’s also somehow not the worst one you could be waking up to every morning.

Want to be jump scared awake on a regular basis? Try Alarm, which sounds like the kind of comically obnoxious siren that would go off when a laser sensor is tripped during a cartoon jewel heist. Most of the options under the Classic section of your iPhone’s alarm sound list are pretty deranged — see: Crickets, Bark, and Motorcycle, which are all exactly what they advertise — but everyone responsible for this one should be tried at The Hague.

This one’s just the default Apple ringtone, which is arguably as triggering as Radar. I can’t think of anyone who would willingly try to simulate the experience of being awakened by an unexpected phone call, but maybe it would come in handy if you’re the type of person who has recurring nightmares about being chased. Sorry, Freddy Krueger, gotta take this!

Slow Rise won’t cause you to physically recoil like some of the aforementioned tones, but it gives off absolutely curséd vibes. Somewhere in a haunted house sits a jack-in-the-box that plays this tinkling melody as its crank spins slowly on its own.

Summit isn’t necessarily bad, either, just kind of chaotic and confusing. How did this Backyard Baseball soundtrack reject wind up as an alarm sound? Is Tim Cook a Pablo Sanchez stan? The world may never know.

I’m not saying Mariah Carey should sue, but I’m also not saying that Twinkle doesn’t sound exactly like the first few notes of “All I Want for Christmas Is You.” If you’re one of those people who doesn’t already get sick of hearing it on rotation from November to January, this’ll do the trick.

Playtime can only be described as “serving Big Comfy Couch Clock Stretch realness,” which is a series of words I can honestly say I never thought I’d ever type in succession. Kind of a bop!

Props to the Millennial Apple employee who named Night Owl: It could easily be an Owl City demo. As someone who also came of age in the 2010s, I’m humble enough to admit that I go into CatJAM mode when it comes on.

One of several iPhone alarms I would categorize as “Super Mario Bros. Music” (the others being Sencha and Ripples), By the Seaside could’ve been the background track for a mini-game menu in a past life.

Silk is the intro for a Charli XCX song, and you cannot convince me otherwise. The only question is: Are we as a society ready for a Weird Al parody of “Unlock It” about the iPhone’s Face ID? Either way, stream Crash.

For the medieval bardcore fans among us, Uplift is a pleasant little ditty that sounds like it was strummed out on a Celtic harp. This one actually got stuck in my Samsung-using partner’s head for a good half hour after I first played it, which probably says something. Radar? We hardly known her.

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Dan Dunn
Dan Dunn
Executive Managing editor

Editor and Admin at MarkMeets since Nov 2012. Columnist, reviewer and entertainment writer and oversees all of the section's news, features and interviews. During his career, he has written for numerous magazines.

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