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Pilot Tone

From Chace Audio

“Pilot tone” refers to a sync reference tone recorded to an audio track on analog tape. Pilot tone can be used to resolve the playback speed of the tape and thereby avoid drift.

The earliest method used to provide a speed reference for an audiotape element was to record a 60Hz pilot tone based on the standard electric AC in North America – a 50Hz tone would be recorded in Europe – onto the element at the time the recording was made. The tone can then be “resolved” when the element is played back. This is accomplished by referencing the 60Hz AC that the playback machine is receiving through the electrical outlet to the 60Hz tone on the tape. The audiotape speed is increased or decreased to match the current coming through the outlet. If multiple audio elements are lined up via start marks and are all being played back at once, resolving each element in this fashion will ensure that they playback at the correct speed and do not drift out of sync with each other.

Other versions of this sync reference exist including Rangertone™ Sync, a short-lived but specialized tone-based resolving method that requires a special type of audiotape playback head to be properly resolved.