At Quality Record Pressings in Salina, Kan., the influx of orders for vinyl records has become so excellent that the staff has become turning away requests since September. This resurgence in pvc compound popularity blindsided Gary Salstrom, the company’s general manger. The organization is definitely 5yrs old, but Salstrom is making records for a living since 1979.
“I can’t explain to you how surprised I am,” he says.
Listeners aren’t just demanding more records; they wish to tune in to more genres on vinyl. As most casual music consumers moved onto cassette tapes, compact discs, and then digital downloads within the last several decades, a tiny contingent of listeners obsessive about audio quality supported a modest industry for certain musical styles on vinyl, notably classic jazz and orchestral recordings.
Now, seemingly everything else within the musical world is to get pressed at the same time. The Recording Industry Association of America reported that vinyl record sales in 2015 exceeded $400 million from the Usa That figure is vinyl’s highest since 1988, plus it beat out revenue from ad-supported online music streaming, such as the free version of Spotify.
While old-school audiophiles plus a new wave of record collectors are supporting vinyl’s second coming, scientists are considering the chemistry of materials that carry and possess carried sounds within their grooves over time. They hope that by doing this, they are going to increase their ability to create and preserve these records.
Eric B. Monroe, a chemist at the Library of Congress, is studying the composition of one of those particular materials, wax cylinders, to determine the way they age and degrade. To aid with that, he or she is examining a story of litigation and skulduggery.
Although wax cylinders may seem like a primitive storage medium, they were a revelation at that time. Edison invented the phonograph in 1877 using cylinders covered with tinfoil, but he shelved the project to be effective around the lightbulb, according to sources at the Library of Congress.
But Edison was lured back into the audio game after Alexander Graham Bell with his fantastic Volta Laboratory had created wax cylinders. Working with chemist Jonas Aylsworth, Edison soon designed a superior brown wax for recording cylinders.
“From an industrial viewpoint, the material is beautiful,” Monroe says. He started taking care of this history project in September but, before that, was working with the specialty chemical firm Milliken & Co., giving him an original industrial viewpoint of the material.
“It’s rather minimalist. It’s just good enough for which it must be,” he says. “It’s not overengineered.” There seemed to be one looming downside to the gorgeous brown wax, though: Edison and Aylsworth never patented it.
Enter Thomas H. MacDonald of American Graphophone Co., who basically paid people off and away to help him copy Edison’s recipe, Monroe says. MacDonald then declared a patent on the brown wax in 1898. Although the lawsuit didn’t come until after Edison and Aylsworth introduced a fresh and improved black wax.
To record sound into brown wax cylinders, each had to be individually grooved with a cutting stylus. Although the black wax may be cast into grooved molds, allowing for mass manufacture of records.
Unfortunately for Edison and Aylsworth, the black wax was a direct chemical descendant of the brown wax that legally belonged to American Graphophone, so American Graphophone sued Edison’s National Phonograph Co. Fortunately to the defendants, Aylsworth’s lab notebooks showed that Team Edison had, in fact, developed the brown wax first. The companies eventually settled out of court.
Monroe has become able to study legal depositions in the suit and Aylsworth’s notebooks because of the Thomas A. Edison Papers Project at Rutgers University, which is working to make greater than 5 million pages of documents linked to Edison publicly accessible.
Utilizing these documents, Monroe is tracking how Aylsworth and his awesome colleagues developed waxes and gaining a better knowledge of the decisions behind the materials’ chemical design. As an example, in a early experiment, Aylsworth produced a soap using sodium hydroxide and industrial stearic acid. At that time, industrial-grade stearic acid was actually a roughly 1:1 mixture of stearic acid and palmitic acid, two essential fatty acids that differ by two carbon atoms.
That early soap was “almost perfection,” Aylsworth remarked in their notebook. But after a few days, the top showed signs and symptoms of crystallization and records made using it started sounding scratchy. So Aylsworth added aluminum towards the mix and located the proper blend of “the good, the bad, along with the necessary” features of all ingredients, Monroe explains.
This mixture of stearic acid and palmitic is soft, but too much of it will make for a weak wax. Adding sodium stearate adds some toughness, but it’s also responsible for the crystallization problem. The upvc compound prevents the sodium stearate from crystallizing as well as adding a little extra toughness.
In reality, this wax was a little too tough for Aylsworth’s liking. To soften the wax, he added another fatty acid, oleic acid. But the majority of these cylinders started sweating when summertime rolled around-they exuded moisture trapped in the humid air-and were recalled. Aylsworth then swapped the oleic acid to get a simple hydrocarbon wax, ceresin. Like oleic acid, it softened the wax. Unlike oleic acid, it added a significant waterproofing element.
Monroe has become performing chemical analyses on both collection pieces and his awesome synthesized samples so that the materials are the same and that the conclusions he draws from testing his materials are legit. For instance, he is able to examine the organic content of your wax using techniques for example mass spectrometry and identify the metals in the sample with X-ray fluorescence.
Monroe revealed the initial is a result of these analyses last month with a conference hosted by the Association for Recorded Sound Collections, or ARSC. Although his first couple of efforts to make brown wax were too crystalline-his stearic acid was too pure along with no palmitic acid inside-he’s now making substances that happen to be almost identical to Edison’s.
His experiments also advise that these metal soaps expand and contract considerably with changing temperatures. Institutions that preserve wax cylinders, like universities and libraries, usually store their collections at about 10 °C. As opposed to bringing the cylinders from cold storage straight to room temperature, the common current practice, preservationists should allow the cylinders to warm gradually, Monroe says. This will minimize the strain in the wax and minimize the probability it will fracture, he adds.
The similarity in between the original brown wax and Monroe’s brown wax also implies that the fabric degrades very slowly, which happens to be great news for folks like Peter Alyea, Monroe’s colleague with the Library of Congress.
Alyea desires to recover the information kept in the cylinders’ grooves without playing them. To achieve this he captures and analyzes microphotographs in the grooves, a method pioneered by researchers at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.
Soft wax cylinders were perfect for recording one-off sessions, Alyea says. Business folks could capture dictations using wax and did so up in to the 1960s. Anthropologists also brought the wax in the field to record and preserve the voices and stories of vanishing native tribes.
“There are ten thousand cylinders with recordings of Native Americans in our collection,” Alyea says. “They’re basically invaluable.” Having those recordings captured in a material that appears to withstand time-when stored and handled properly-may seem like a stroke of fortune, but it’s less than surprising considering the material’s progenitor.
“Edison was the engineer’s engineer,” Alyea says. The modifications he and Aylsworth made to their formulations always served a purpose: to make their cylinders heartier, longer playing, or higher fidelity. These considerations and also the corresponding advances in formulations triggered his second-generation moldable black wax and in the end to Blue Amberol Records, which were cylinders made with blue celluloid plastic rather than wax.
But when these cylinders were so great, why did the record industry switch to flat platters? It’s quicker to store more flat records in less space, Alyea explains.
Emile Berliner, inventor of your gramophone, introduced disc-shaped gramophone records pressed in celluloid and hard rubber around 1890, says Bill Klinger. Klinger may be the chair of your Cylinder Subcommittee for ARSC and had encouraged the Library of Congress to start out the metal soaps project Monroe is focusing on.
In 1895, Berliner introduced discs based upon shellac, a resin secreted by female lac bugs, that would be a record industry staple for years. Berliner’s discs used an assortment of shellac, clay and cotton fibers, and several carbon black for color, Klinger says. Record makers manufactured an incredible number of discs using this brittle and relatively inexpensive material.
“Shellac records dominated the industry from 1912 to 1952,” Klinger says. Several of these discs are actually referred to as 78s for their playback speed of 78 revolutions-per-minute, give or require a few rpm.
PVC has enough structural fortitude to support a groove and endure a record needle.
Edison and Aylsworth also stepped in the chemistry of disc records using a material called Condensite in 1912. “I assume that is quite possibly the most impressive chemistry of your early recording industry,” Klinger says. “By comparison, the competing shellac technology was always crude.”
Klinger says Aylsworth spent years developing Condensite, a phenol-formaldehyde resin which had been much like Bakelite, which had been accepted as the world’s first synthetic plastic through the American Chemical Society, C&EN’s publisher.
What set Condensite apart, though, was hexamethylenetetramine. Aylsworth added the compound to Condensite to prevent water vapor from forming in the high-temperature molding process, which deformed a disc’s surface, Klinger explains.
Edison was literally using a lot of Condensite daily in 1914, nevertheless the material never supplanted shellac, largely because Edison’s superior product was included with a substantially higher cost, Klinger says. Edison stopped producing records in 1929.
However when Columbia Records released vinyl long-playing records, or LPs, in 1948, shellac’s days inside the music industry were numbered. Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) records give a quieter surface, store more music, and so are a lot less brittle than shellac discs, Klinger says.
Lon J. Mathias, a polymer chemist and professor emeritus in the University of Southern Mississippi, offers one more reason for why vinyl came to dominate records. “It’s cheap, and it’s easily molded,” he says. Although he can’t talk with the particular composition of today’s vinyl, he does share some general insights to the plastic.
PVC is mostly amorphous, but from a happy accident from the free-radical-mediated reactions that build polymer chains from smaller subunits, the information is 10 to 20% crystalline, Mathias says. Because of this, PVC has enough structural fortitude to assist a groove and resist a record needle without compromising smoothness.
With no additives, PVC is obvious-ish, Mathias says, so record vinyl needs something such as carbon black allow it its famous black finish.
Finally, if Mathias was picking a polymer for records and money was no object, he’d go with polyimides. These materials have better thermal stability than vinyl, which has been known to warp when left in cars on sunny days. Polyimides may also reproduce grooves better and provide a much more frictionless surface, Mathias adds.
But chemists remain tweaking and improving vinyl’s formulation, says Salstrom of Quality Record Pressings. He’s dealing with his vinyl supplier to discover a PVC composition that’s optimized for thicker, heavier records with deeper grooves to present listeners a sturdier, better quality product. Although Salstrom could be surprised by the resurgence in vinyl, he’s not trying to give anyone any reasons to stop listening.
A soft brush typically handle any dust that settles over a vinyl record. So how can listeners deal with more tenacious grime and dirt?
The Library of Congress shares a recipe to get a cleaning solution of 2 mL of Dow Chemical’s Tergitol 15-S-7 in 4 L of deionized water. C&EN spoke with Paula Cameron, a technical service manager with Dow, to learn about the chemistry that can help the pvc compound end up in-and from-the groove.
Molecules in Tergitol 15-S-7 possess hydrophobic hydrocarbon chains that happen to be between 11 and 15 carbon atoms long. The S means it’s a secondary alcohol, so there’s a hydroxyl jutting dexrpky05 the midsection from the hydrocarbon chain to connect it to your hydrophilic chain of repeating ethylene oxide units.
Finally, the 7 is a measure of the amount of moles of ethylene oxide are in the surfactant. The greater the number, the greater number of water-soluble the compound is. Seven is squarely within the water-soluble category, Cameron says. Furthermore, she adds, the surfactant doesn’t become viscous or gel-like when mixed with water.
The result can be a mild, fast-rinsing surfactant that may get inside and out of grooves quickly, Cameron explains. The not so good news for vinyl audiophiles who might want to do this in your house is the fact that Dow typically doesn’t sell surfactants right to consumers. Their potential customers are usually companies who make cleaning products.