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Home /Entertainment / Audio Reel or Film Reel?

Audio Reel or Film Reel?

By Christian Roemer

If you or your family are anything like me, you lack a certain set of organizational skills. You don’t know what color coding means. You barely know the alphabet. Even though you went to grad school for English, you don’t really know what the Dewey Decimal System is. Didn’t you study English so you wouldn’t have to worry about decimals anyway?

Assuming you and your family are like me, and also assuming you have some tapes and film with recordings on them, there’s a good chance you didn’t label them properly. Or at all. Are labels something you buy?

I’m still not sure.

Long story short, you’re sitting on a box of old recordings, and you can’t make heads or tails of them. Do you have videos? Audio? Is the media even real?

If there’s something that I can do, it’s get into a contrived philosophical debate about metaphysics. But that’s not what this blog post is about. This blog post is here to help you figure out whether your box full of tapes and films are video, audio, or maybe a little bit of each.

The good news is that there are basically two cheat codes to figuring out what kind of media you have. First, let’s go after the low hanging fruit. Are you a Gen Zer who’s never seen anything older than an iPod shuffle? If so, this guide is for you. These are the most common audio and video formats from the past 50 or so years.







Vinyl Record


Mini-Tape Audio Recorder


Go ahead and google pictures of those. If you find a match, then you’re set! A VHS tape will always be video, and a cassette tape will always be audio.  By starting out with a little process of elimination, we’re well on our way to identifying what kind of age-old recordings you have.

If Google turns out to be a dud, you’ll need to get out a ruler, because you’re going to need to measure some stuff. I know, I know -- I was just complaining about numbers, and here we are having to do some math. Absurd, if you ask me.

The good news is that measuring should be pretty straightforward and simple too.

.25 inch width
8mm width
.5 inch width
16mm width
1 inch width
35mm width
2 inch width
65mm width


If you’re wondering whether your reel is audio or video, it basically comes down to what width it is. If it’s a size that fits perfectly on the imperial measurement side, it’s probably an audio recording. If it fits like a glove on the metric side, it’s probably video.

Isn’t that convenient?

If you’re looking for a simple heuristic to figure out if your old recordings are audio or video, this two-step process is what you’re looking for:

  1. Is it one of the formats in the first chart? If so, check the chart.
  2. Is your media some sort of film that’s stored in a tin canister? Measure how wide the film is. If it’s measured in inches, it’s an audio recording. If it’s metric, it’s video.

That’s about it! Pretty simple!

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