Hot-wire and flow-visualization studies have been carried out in three air jets subjected to pure-tone acoustic excitation, and the instability, vortex roll-up and transition as well as jet response to the controlled excitation have been investigated. The centreline fluctuation intensity can be enhanced by inducing stable vortex pairing to a level much higher than even that at the ‘preferred mode’, but can also be suppressed below the unexcited level under certain conditions of excitation. The conditions most favourable to vortex pairing were determined as a function of the excitation Strouhal number, the Reynolds number (ReD), and the initial shear-layer state, i.e. laminar or turbulent. It is shown that the rolled-up vortex rings undergo pairing under two distinct conditions of excitation: ‘the shear layer mode’ when the Strouhal number based on the initial shear-layer momentum thickness (Stθ) is about 0·012, and ‘the jet column mode’ when the Strouhal number based on the jet diameter (StD) is about 0·85. The former involves pairing of the near-exit thin vortex rings when the initial boundary layer is laminar, irrespective of the value of StD. The latter involves pairing of the thick vortex rings at x/D ≅ 1·75, irrespective of Stθ or whether the initial boundary layer is laminar or turbulent. For laminar exit boundary layer, pairing is found to be stable, i.e., occurring regularly in space and time, for ReD < 5 × 104, but becomes intermittent with increasing ReD or fluctuation intensity in the initial boundary layer. The trajectories of the vortex centres and their convection velocities during a pairing event have been recorded through phase-locked measurements. In the presence of stable vortex pairing, the time average profiles of fluctuation intensities and Reynolds stress show noticeable deviations from those in the unexcited jet. The vortex pairing phenomenon produce considerably larger excursions of the [formula omitted] signal than the time-average Reynolds stress reveals, suggesting that only certain phases of the pairing process may be important in entrainment, and production of Reynolds stress and jet noise.