At Quality Record Pressings in Salina, Kan., the influx of orders for vinyl records has been 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 just 5 years old, but Salstrom is making records to get a living since 1979.
“I can’t let you know how surprised I am just,” he says.
Listeners aren’t just demanding more records; they want to pay attention to more genres on vinyl. As most casual music consumers moved onto cassette tapes, compact discs, and after that digital downloads in the last several decades, a tiny contingent of listeners obsessive about audio quality supported a modest market for certain musical styles on vinyl, notably classic jazz and orchestral recordings.
Now, seemingly everything else in the musical world gets pressed also. The Recording Industry Association of America reported that vinyl record sales in 2015 exceeded $400 million in the United states That figure is vinyl’s highest since 1988, and yes 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 looking at the chemistry of materials that carry and possess carried sounds in their grooves over time. They hope that in doing so, they are going to increase their ability to create and preserve these records.
Eric B. Monroe, a chemist in the Library of Congress, is studying the composition of one of those materials, wax cylinders, to determine the direction they age and degrade. To assist using that, he is examining a narrative of litigation and skulduggery.
Although wax cylinders might appear to be a primitive storage medium, these were a revelation at the time. Edison invented the phonograph in 1877 using cylinders wrapped in tinfoil, but he shelved the project to work around the lightbulb, in accordance with sources at the Library of Congress.
But Edison was lured back into the audio game after Alexander Graham Bell and his Volta Laboratory had created wax cylinders. Dealing with chemist Jonas Aylsworth, Edison soon designed a superior brown wax for recording cylinders.
“From a commercial viewpoint, the fabric is beautiful,” Monroe says. He started concentrating on this history project in September but, before that, was working at the specialty chemical firm Milliken & Co., giving him an original industrial viewpoint of your material.
“It’s rather minimalist. It’s just adequate for what it needs to be,” he says. “It’s not overengineered.” There was one looming trouble with the gorgeous brown wax, though: Edison and Aylsworth never patented it.
Enter Thomas H. MacDonald of American Graphophone Co., who basically paid people off to help him copy Edison’s recipe, Monroe says. MacDonald then filed for a patent around the brown wax in 1898. Nevertheless 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 one of these needed to be individually grooved using a cutting stylus. But the black wax might be cast into grooved molds, allowing for mass production of records.
Unfortunately for Edison and Aylsworth, the black wax was really a direct chemical descendant in the brown wax that legally belonged to American Graphophone, so American Graphophone sued Edison’s National Phonograph Co. Fortunately for your defendants, Aylsworth’s lab notebooks showed that Team Edison had, in reality, developed the brown wax first. The firms eventually settled out from court.
Monroe has become able to study legal depositions through the suit and Aylsworth’s notebooks on account of the Thomas A. Edison Papers Project at Rutgers University, which is attempting to make more than 5 million pages of documents associated with Edison publicly accessible.
By using these documents, Monroe is tracking how Aylsworth and his awesome colleagues developed waxes and gaining an improved idea of the decisions behind the materials’ chemical design. For example, in a early experiment, Aylsworth produced a soap using sodium hydroxide and industrial stearic acid. At the time, industrial-grade stearic acid was really a roughly 1:1 mixture of stearic acid and palmitic acid, two fatty acids that differ by two carbon atoms.
That early soap was “almost perfection,” Aylsworth remarked in the notebook. But after a few days, the outer lining showed warning signs of crystallization and records made with it started sounding scratchy. So Aylsworth added aluminum for the mix and found the correct blend of “the good, the unhealthy, and the necessary” features of all of the ingredients, Monroe explains.
The combination of stearic acid and palmitic is soft, but an excessive amount of it makes for a weak wax. Adding sodium stearate adds some toughness, but it’s also accountable for the crystallization problem. The upvc compound prevents the sodium stearate from crystallizing while adding additional toughness.
In reality, this wax was a touch too tough for Aylsworth’s liking. To soften the wax, he added another fatty acid, oleic acid. But most these cylinders started sweating when summertime rolled around-they exuded moisture trapped from your humid air-and were recalled. Aylsworth then swapped out of the oleic acid for a simple hydrocarbon wax, ceresin. Like oleic acid, it softened the wax. Unlike oleic acid, it added an essential waterproofing element.
Monroe continues to be performing chemical analyses on both collection pieces and his awesome synthesized samples to guarantee the materials are similar and therefore the conclusions he draws from testing his materials are legit. For example, he can look into the organic content of any wax using techniques including mass spectrometry and identify the metals within a sample with X-ray fluorescence.
Monroe revealed the first results from these analyses last month in a conference hosted with the Association for Recorded Sound Collections, or ARSC. Although his first couple of tries to make brown wax were too crystalline-his stearic acid was too pure along with no palmitic acid in it-he’s now making substances that happen to be almost identical to Edison’s.
His experiments also claim that these metal soaps expand and contract considerably with changing temperatures. Institutions that preserve wax cylinders, for example universities and libraries, usually store their collections at about 10 °C. Instead of bringing the cylinders from cold storage directly to room temperature, the common current practice, preservationists should allow the cylinders to warm gradually, Monroe says. This can minimize the worries around the wax and minimize the probability it will fracture, he adds.
The similarity between your original brown wax and Monroe’s brown wax also implies that the content degrades very slowly, which happens to be great news for anyone like Peter Alyea, Monroe’s colleague on the Library of Congress.
Alyea desires to recover the details held in the cylinders’ grooves without playing them. To achieve this he captures and analyzes microphotographs of your grooves, a technique pioneered by researchers at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.
Soft wax cylinders were just the thing 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 to the field to record and preserve the voices and stories of vanishing native tribes.
“There are ten thousand cylinders with recordings of Native Americans within our collection,” Alyea says. “They’re basically invaluable.” Having those recordings captured within a material that appears to stand up to time-when stored and handled properly-may seem like a stroke of fortune, but it’s not too surprising considering the material’s progenitor.
“Edison was the engineer’s engineer,” Alyea says. The changes he and Aylsworth created to their formulations always served a purpose: to help make their cylinders heartier, longer playing, or higher fidelity. These considerations along with the corresponding advances in formulations generated his second-generation moldable black wax and ultimately to Blue Amberol Records, that were cylinders created using blue celluloid plastic as an alternative to wax.
However if these cylinders were so excellent, why did the record industry move to flat platters? It’s simpler to store more flat records in less space, Alyea explains.
Emile Berliner, inventor from the gramophone, introduced disc-shaped gramophone records pressed in celluloid and hard rubber around 1890, says Bill Klinger. Klinger is definitely the chair of your Cylinder Subcommittee for ARSC and had encouraged the Library of Congress to begin the metal soaps project Monroe is concentrating on.
In 1895, Berliner introduced discs depending on shellac, a resin secreted by female lac bugs, that would become a record industry staple for many years. Berliner’s discs used a mixture of shellac, clay and cotton fibers, plus some carbon black for color, Klinger says. Record makers manufactured numerous discs by using this brittle and comparatively cheap material.
“Shellac records dominated the market from 1912 to 1952,” Klinger says. Most of these discs are referred to as 78s due to their playback speed of 78 revolutions-per-minute, give or take a few rpm.
PVC has enough structural fortitude to back up a groove and stand up to a record needle.
Edison and Aylsworth also stepped the chemistry of disc records by using a material known as Condensite in 1912. “I feel that is quite possibly the most impressive chemistry of the 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 that had been just like Bakelite, that was acknowledged as the world’s first synthetic plastic with the American Chemical Society, C&EN’s publisher.
What set Condensite apart, though, was hexamethylenetetramine. Aylsworth added the compound to Condensite in order to avoid water vapor from forming throughout the high-temperature molding process, which deformed a disc’s surface, Klinger explains.
Edison was literally using a huge amount of Condensite every day in 1914, however the material never supplanted shellac, largely because Edison’s superior product came with a substantially higher price tag, Klinger says. Edison stopped producing records in 1929.
But once Columbia Records released vinyl long-playing records, or LPs, in 1948, shellac’s days in the music industry were numbered. Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) records give a quieter surface, store more music, and therefore are less brittle than shellac discs, Klinger says.
Lon J. Mathias, a polymer chemist and professor emeritus at the University of Southern Mississippi, offers another reason why why vinyl arrived at dominate records. “It’s cheap, and it’s easily molded,” he says. Although he can’t speak to the particular composition of today’s vinyl, he does share some general insights to the plastic.
PVC is generally amorphous, but by 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. For that reason, PVC has enough structural fortitude to assist a groove and resist an archive needle without compromising smoothness.
Without the additives, PVC is clear-ish, Mathias says, so record vinyl needs something similar to carbon black allow it its famous black finish.
Finally, if Mathias was choosing a polymer for records and cash was no object, he’d go along with polyimides. These materials have better thermal stability than vinyl, which has been seen to warp when left in cars on sunny days. Polyimides also can reproduce grooves better and give a more frictionless surface, Mathias adds.
But chemists continue to be tweaking and improving vinyl’s formulation, says Salstrom of Quality Record Pressings. He’s dealing with his vinyl supplier to locate a PVC composition that’s optimized for thicker, heavier records with deeper grooves to provide listeners a sturdier, high quality product. Although Salstrom could be astonished at the resurgence in vinyl, he’s not trying to give anyone any excellent reasons to stop listening.
A soft brush normally can handle any dust that settles on a vinyl record. But how can listeners handle more tenacious grime and dirt?
The Library of Congress shares a recipe for the 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 discover the chemistry which helps the transparent pvc compound enter into-and from-the groove.
Molecules in Tergitol 15-S-7 possess hydrophobic hydrocarbon chains that are between 11 and 15 carbon atoms long. The S means it’s a secondary alcohol, so there’s a hydroxyl jutting dexrpky05 the midsection of your hydrocarbon chain to connect it to a hydrophilic chain of repeating ethylene oxide units.
Finally, the 7 is actually a way of measuring how many moles of ethylene oxide happen to be in the surfactant. The higher the number, the more water-soluble the compound is. Seven is squarely in water-soluble category, Cameron says. Furthermore, she adds, the surfactant doesn’t become viscous or gel-like when blended with water.
The outcome is a mild, fast-rinsing surfactant that will get inside and outside of grooves quickly, Cameron explains. The not so good news for vinyl audiophiles who may wish to do this in your house is Dow typically doesn’t sell surfactants instantly to consumers. Their customers are often companies who make cleaning products.