At Quality Record Pressings in Salina, Kan., the influx of orders for vinyl records has become so excellent that the staff continues to be turning away requests since September. This resurgence in pvc granule popularity blindsided Gary Salstrom, the company’s general manger. The company is definitely 5 years old, but Salstrom continues to be making records for any living since 1979.
“I can’t explain to you how surprised I am just,” he says.
Listeners aren’t just demanding more records; they need to listen to more genres on vinyl. As most casual music consumers moved onto cassette tapes, compact discs, and then digital downloads over the past several decades, a little contingent of listeners obsessed with audio quality supported a modest marketplace for certain musical styles on vinyl, notably classic jazz and orchestral recordings.
Now, seemingly the rest from the musical world is becoming pressed as well. The Recording Industry Association of America reported that vinyl record sales in 2015 exceeded $400 million inside the United states That figure is vinyl’s highest since 1988, and it also beat out revenue from ad-supported online music streaming, for example the free version of Spotify.
While old-school audiophiles and a new wave of record collectors are supporting vinyl’s second coming, scientists are looking at the chemistry of materials that carry and have carried sounds with their grooves as time passes. They hope that in doing so, they will improve their ability to create and preserve these records.
Eric B. Monroe, a chemist with the Library of Congress, is studying the composition of one of those particular materials, wax cylinders, to learn the way they age and degrade. To assist with that, he is examining a tale of litigation and skulduggery.
Although wax cylinders may seem like a primitive storage medium, these were a revelation at that time. Edison invented the phonograph in 1877 using cylinders covered with tinfoil, but he shelved the project to function about the lightbulb, in accordance with sources in the Library of Congress.
But Edison was lured back into the audio game after Alexander Graham Bell along with his 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 at the specialty chemical firm Milliken & Co., giving him a distinctive industrial viewpoint of your material.
“It’s rather minimalist. It’s just suitable for which it must 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 and away to help him copy Edison’s recipe, Monroe says. MacDonald then filed for a patent on the brown wax in 1898. But the lawsuit didn’t come until after Edison and Aylsworth introduced a new and improved black wax.
To record sound into brown wax cylinders, each one must be individually grooved using a cutting stylus. Nevertheless the black wax could be cast into grooved molds, allowing for mass creation of records.
Unfortunately for Edison and Aylsworth, the black wax was 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 that defendants, Aylsworth’s lab notebooks demonstrated that Team Edison had, actually, developed the brown wax first. Companies eventually settled out of court.
Monroe continues to be able to study legal depositions from the suit and Aylsworth’s notebooks due to the Thomas A. Edison Papers Project at Rutgers University, that is endeavoring to make a lot more 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. For instance, in an early experiment, Aylsworth produced a soap using sodium hydroxide and industrial stearic acid. At the time, industrial-grade stearic acid had been a roughly 1:1 blend 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 couple of days, the outer lining showed signs of crystallization and records created using it started sounding scratchy. So Aylsworth added aluminum for the mix and located the best combination of “the good, the bad, as well as the necessary” features of all the ingredients, Monroe explains.
The combination of stearic acid and palmitic is soft, but an excessive amount of it makes for the weak wax. Adding sodium stearate adds some toughness, but it’s also in charge of the crystallization problem. The soft pvc granule prevents the sodium stearate from crystallizing whilst adding additional toughness.
Actually, this wax was a tad 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 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 continues to be performing chemical analyses on collection pieces and his synthesized samples to ensure the materials are similar and that the conclusions he draws from testing his materials are legit. For example, he can look into the organic content of your wax using techniques for example mass spectrometry and identify the metals in a sample with X-ray fluorescence.
Monroe revealed the very first comes from these analyses last month with a conference hosted with the Association for Recorded Sound Collections, or ARSC. Although his initial two efforts to make brown wax were too crystalline-his stearic acid was too pure and had no palmitic acid inside it-he’s now making substances which are almost identical to Edison’s.
His experiments also advise that these metal soaps expand and contract a lot with changing temperatures. Institutions that preserve wax cylinders, for example universities and libraries, usually store their collections at about 10 °C. Rather than 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 likely minimize the strain about the wax and reduce the probability it will fracture, he adds.
The similarity involving the original brown wax and Monroe’s brown wax also shows that the content degrades very slowly, that is great news for folks including Peter Alyea, Monroe’s colleague in the Library of Congress.
Alyea desires to recover the info stored in the cylinders’ grooves without playing them. To accomplish this he captures and analyzes microphotographs from the grooves, a strategy pioneered by researchers at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.
Soft wax cylinders were ideal 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 into 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 your collection,” Alyea says. “They’re basically invaluable.” Having those recordings captured inside a material that seems to withstand time-when stored and handled properly-may seem like a stroke of fortune, but it’s less than surprising with the material’s progenitor.
“Edison was the engineer’s engineer,” Alyea says. The adjustments he and Aylsworth made to their formulations always served a purpose: to produce their cylinders heartier, longer playing, or higher fidelity. These considerations and the corresponding advances in formulations generated his second-generation moldable black wax and finally to Blue Amberol Records, that had been cylinders made out of blue celluloid plastic rather than wax.
But if these cylinders were so excellent, why did the record industry move to flat platters? It’s quicker to store more flat records in less space, Alyea explains.
Emile Berliner, inventor of 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 start the metal soaps project Monroe is focusing on.
In 1895, Berliner introduced discs based on shellac, a resin secreted by female lac bugs, that could be 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 an incredible number of discs applying this brittle and relatively inexpensive material.
“Shellac records dominated the marketplace from 1912 to 1952,” Klinger says. Most of these discs have become generally known as 78s because of the playback speed of 78 revolutions-per-minute, give or go on a few rpm.
PVC has enough structural fortitude to assist a groove and withstand an archive needle.
Edison and Aylsworth also stepped in 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 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 comparable to Bakelite, that was accepted 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 to stop water vapor from forming through the high-temperature molding process, which deformed a disc’s surface, Klinger explains.
Edison was literally using a huge amount of Condensite per day in 1914, but the material never supplanted shellac, largely because Edison’s superior product came 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 in the music industry were numbered. Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) records provide 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 on the University of Southern Mississippi, offers another reason why why vinyl came to dominate records. “It’s cheap, and it’s easily molded,” he says. Although he can’t speak with the precise composition of today’s vinyl, he does share some general insights to the plastic.
PVC is mainly amorphous, but by a happy accident in the free-radical-mediated reactions that build polymer chains from smaller subunits, the content is 10 to 20% crystalline, Mathias says. For that reason, PVC has enough structural fortitude to support a groove and withstand a record needle without compromising smoothness.
Without having additives, PVC is apparent-ish, Mathias says, so record vinyl needs such as carbon black allow it its famous black finish.
Finally, if Mathias was picking a polymer to use for records and cash was no object, he’d go along with polyimides. These materials have better thermal stability than vinyl, which was known to warp when left in cars on sunny days. Polyimides may also reproduce grooves better and provide 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 working with his vinyl supplier to find a PVC composition that’s optimized for thicker, heavier records with deeper grooves to give listeners a sturdier, top quality product. Although Salstrom can be amazed at the resurgence in vinyl, he’s not seeking to give anyone any top reasons to stop listening.
A soft brush can usually handle any dust that settles on a vinyl record. So 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 that helps the clear pvc granule enter into-and away 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 the hydrocarbon chain for connecting it into a hydrophilic chain of repeating ethylene oxide units.
Finally, the 7 is really a way of measuring the amount of moles of ethylene oxide are in the surfactant. The higher the number, the more 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 is actually a mild, fast-rinsing surfactant that can get out and in of grooves quickly, Cameron explains. The not so good news for vinyl audiophiles who might want to use this at home is Dow typically doesn’t sell surfactants instantly to consumers. Their customers are typically companies who make cleaning products.