Do film reels have sound? Over 90% of the 8mm and 16mm home movies we see in our transfer studio do not have sound, but some do! Let's find out how to identify sound on film reels, and why it's important.

From Silent Film to the Talkies

Film and sound recordings were mostly separate until the late 1920s. Yet silent films often seem a bit unnatural. They struggle to recreate dialogue or set the mood on their own.

Engineers in the early 1900s found ways to record sound directly onto the movie film it accompanies. These were the first talkies, or non-silent films, that stored pictures and audio on the same piece of film.

Varieties of Sound on Film

Two early types of sound-on-film were magnetic wire and optical sound. Just like TVs and iPhones, this exciting new tech wasn't cheap--but it changed how our world shared and enjoys home movies.

Magnetic Wire

To find out if reels of 16mm or 8mm film have sound, look for a thin metal wire that runs along the edge. That gold-or-rust-colored strip was magnetized when it captured the words, music and laughter your family shared in this home movie.

Here's what each home movie format with sound-on-film looks like:

  • 8mm film with audio has the magnetic band attached to the same edge as the tiny perforations or sprocket holes
  • Super 8 film has sound if there's a metallic strip on the non-perforated edge
  • 16mm film reels might have a magnetic strip on the edge without sprocket holes

Optical Sound

Some talkies use optical sound, which stores audio as visual snapshots of the sound waves that were recorded. The height of each wave shows the volume (bigger is louder), while the length between each wave's peak determines the pitch (longer is lower).

Films with optical sound are even more scarce than ones with magnetic audio. There's a chance that your 16mm has audio like this, but Super  8 and 8mm films with sound are extremely rare.

My Home Movies Have Sound! Now What?

Hearing the past is just as important as seeing it. Home movies with sound can reveal how your family talked, what music they listened to, and whether your great-grandmother's quirky laugh sounded a lot like your own.

Do your film reels have sound? Don't leave parts of your story buried in the past. If you want to convert home movies to digital, make sure you find a film transfer service that captures the audio, too.