British Phone Sound Effect

PCStage Index


Many productions have the sound effect of a British phone ring, and it can be quite difficult to do this sound effect "right". The problem comes not from the effect whilst the phone running, but when it stops actively ringing. The real thing has a long decay as the bells stop vibrating. Thus if you just stop the effect dead it sounds very wrong. The almost obvious trick of adding reverb makes it sound worse.

The problem is magnified when it is necessary to stop the phone ringing on cue, generally when a actor picks up the phone receiver.

Using PCStage (or any other program that permits a similar level of control) one can build that perfect telephone sound effect.

The way it works is that there is a single decaying burts of ring, which is actually a recording of the last brrr of the brrr-brrr-gap-brrr-brrr sequence, recorded from a real phone. The sound must decay to silence. This one ring is then played back at the right times to make the full ringing sound.

How its done

A PCStage desk other than the Default desk is used for this effect. It has to be a desk other than the one that you actually run the cues from, which is normally the Default desk, as Desk commands are used to control the effect. In the example, the second desk is called SFX. For the duration of the effect, it also needs its own audio track.

The effect uses a combination of PCStage features, including desk commands (DSK:), and cuelist features like looping. Here is a screenshot of the relevant bit of the SFX cuelist.

The first point to note is that there are a couple of specifically named cue-list entries, and by my convention these are in capital letters. The first entry, ID 0 is named "RESTING", this is the state the desk is commanded to when nothing is happening, the desk is literally resting. The second named entry is cue ID 20, entitled "RING". These names are referred to from the controlling cuelist, by issuing a "DSK: Fade SFX:RING" command the phone effect is started, and a subsequent "DSK: Fade SFX:RESTING" command will stop the ring, allowing a natural tailoff of the ring. (NB: you dont actually have to type those command in, the commands are shown this way for ease of viewing in the cuelist, they are actually created by selecting items from pre-opopulated drop boxes.)

The other part of this effect is the interaction between PCStage cuelist flags and cue fade times.

Cue IDs 20,30,40 have the N (Next) flag set. The N flag causes the next cue to be automatically actioned when this one is "done". This is sometimes called an autofollow,. By "done" we mean that this cue's fade timers hav e completed. These times can be seen in the "Up Fade" column.

Cue ID 50 has the R (return) flag set. When a cue-list item has this attribute then when it's timers complete, then PCStage will loop back to the most recently encountered cue with the S (Start) flag set, which in this case happens to be the cue with ID 20.

The effect of these timers and flags is that there is a loop which PCStage will execute apprently forever, which is why we use a desk command to go to the RESTING cue to stop the ring.


The PCStage production file and the sound effect WAV file are both packaged into (501K). This file shoud be unzipped into c:\pcstage\britphone, assuming you installed PCStage into c:\pcstage


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