Sidetone is audible feedback to someone speaking when using a handset or headset as an indication of an active transmission. The term is often used in the telecommunication field.
In telephony, sidetone is the effect of sound picked up by the telephone's transmitter (mouthpiece) and instantly introduced at a low electronic signal level into the receiver (earpiece) of the same handset, a form of feedback.
Sidetone in 19th century telephones varied until the carbon transmitter was used, which produced a distinct sidetone that discouraged speaking loudly enough, and occasionally so loud as to cause the instrument to produce uncontrolled oscillations, resulting in howling audio effects. Sidetone is disabled when phones of any kind are running in speakerphone mode, due to perpetual and almost immediate feedback. Anti-sidetone circuitry incorporating the principle of the hybrid coil brought sidetone under control in the early 20th century, leaving enough feedback signal to assure the user that the phone is really working, and allowing the use of a unitized telephone handset. In cellular technologies, one of the many benefits of sidetone-enabled phones is that a user knows a call has been dropped or ended if he or she no longer hears sidetone. Comfort noise provides a similar benefit.
Almost all land-line (wired and wireless) phones have employed sidetone, so naturally it was an expected convention for cellular telephony but is not standard by any means. Usability experts believe that lack of adequate sidetone causes some people to shout or speak too loudly when using a cell phone (this behavior is sometimes referred to as "cell yell").
Sidetone is valuable for the hearing impaired. The amount of sidetone typically found on land-lines is 8%, and is 4% for cellular phones. Sidetone can be, and often is, amplified for land-line phones for the hearing impaired. In VOIP technologies such as Skype, sidetone has been experimented with but has not been formally adopted by software or hardware & accessories creators. Several software packages and wiring workarounds have been developed that replicate sidetone, but feedback looping remains a problem.
In wireless telegraphy (WT) and amateur radio, sidetone is the audible indication of a continuous wave (CW) signal as the operator sends Morse Code. As in telephony, sidetone serves as feedback to the operator that what they are sending is what is intended.
It is designed to mimic the tone generated by a typical radio receiver when a CW signal is converted to the intermediate frequency (IF), then mixed with the Beat frequency oscillator (BFO) frequency to generate a difference frequency, which is audible over the radio receiver loudspeaker or headphones.
Sidetone is also used on voice radio equipment to give the radio operator confidence that they are transmitting over the radio. The sidetone audio is typically derived from the transmit audio circuitry.
In aviation audio systems the loudness of the sidetone heard in a helmet or headset may be adjusted to suit personal comfort, although this may lead to communication problems since the person speaking will be largely unaware of how his transmission sounds to the recipient. The ideal level for the right psychoacoustic behavior is reported to be about 7dB below the received audio, according to RTCA specification DO-214. If the headset signal level is set too high, the pilot will inevitably speak more softly, resulting in too low a level of modulation to the radio transmitter.
Public address systems
When a commentator, announcer, or MC for a public event may otherwise be able to hear their own voice in the delayed output from the loudspeakers, they may opt to use a headset which provides instant sidetone of their own voice, thus removing the distracting effect of greatly delayed feedback from the loudspeakers.