At Quality Record Pressings in Salina, Kan., the influx of orders for vinyl records continues to be so excellent that the staff is turning away requests since September. This resurgence in pvc compound popularity blindsided Gary Salstrom, the company’s general manger. The corporation is merely 5yrs old, but Salstrom is making records for any living since 1979.
“I can’t inform you how surprised I am,” he says.
Listeners aren’t just demanding more records; they want to pay attention to more genres on vinyl. As many casual music consumers moved onto cassette tapes, compact discs, and after that digital downloads in the last several decades, a tiny contingent of listeners enthusiastic 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 too. 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, plus it beat out revenue from ad-supported online music streaming, like 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 get carried sounds inside their grooves as time passes. They hope that in doing so, they may 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 particular materials, wax cylinders, to find out the direction they age and degrade. To help with that, he or she is examining a tale of litigation and skulduggery.
Although wax cylinders might appear to be a primitive storage medium, these were a revelation back then. Edison invented the phonograph in 1877 using cylinders covered with tinfoil, but he shelved the project to function in the lightbulb, as outlined by 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. Utilizing chemist Jonas Aylsworth, Edison soon designed a superior brown wax for recording cylinders.
“From a commercial viewpoint, the material is beautiful,” Monroe says. He started concentrating on this history project in September but, before that, was working with the specialty chemical firm Milliken & Co., giving him an original industrial viewpoint from the material.
“It’s rather minimalist. It’s just sufficient for what it needs to be,” he says. “It’s not overengineered.” There was one looming trouble with the attractive 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 in the brown wax in 1898. Nevertheless the lawsuit didn’t come until after Edison and Aylsworth introduced a whole new and improved black wax.
To record sound into brown wax cylinders, each one of these had to be individually grooved having a cutting stylus. Although the black wax could be cast into grooved molds, allowing for mass manufacture of records.
Unfortunately for Edison and Aylsworth, the black wax was actually a direct chemical descendant of your 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 revealed that Team Edison had, in fact, developed the brown wax first. The businesses eventually settled away from court.
Monroe has become capable of study legal depositions from your suit and Aylsworth’s notebooks due to the Thomas A. Edison Papers Project at Rutgers University, that is endeavoring to make more than 5 million pages of documents linked to Edison publicly accessible.
By using these documents, Monroe is tracking how Aylsworth and his colleagues developed waxes and gaining a greater understanding of the decisions behind the materials’ chemical design. As an illustration, in an early experiment, Aylsworth crafted a soap using sodium hydroxide and industrial stearic acid. At that time, industrial-grade stearic acid was actually a roughly 1:1 combination 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 his notebook. But after a couple of days, the outer lining showed signs of crystallization and records made with it started sounding scratchy. So Aylsworth added aluminum for the mix and located the correct mixture of “the good, the bad, and the necessary” features of all the ingredients, Monroe explains.
This mixture of stearic acid and palmitic is soft, but way too much of it will make for any 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 touch 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 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 is performing chemical analyses on both collection pieces and his synthesized samples to ensure the materials are exactly the same which the conclusions he draws from testing his materials are legit. As an example, he could look into the organic content of any wax using techniques such as mass spectrometry and identify the metals inside a sample with X-ray fluorescence.
Monroe revealed the very first is a result of these analyses recently with a conference hosted with the Association for Recorded Sound Collections, or ARSC. Although his first two attempts to make brown wax were too crystalline-his stearic acid was too pure and had no palmitic acid within it-he’s now making substances that are almost identical to Edison’s.
His experiments also claim 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. Instead of bringing the cylinders from cold storage directly to room temperature, the common current practice, preservationists should permit the cylinders to warm gradually, Monroe says. This may minimize the worries about the wax minimizing the probability that it will fracture, he adds.
The similarity in between the original brown wax and Monroe’s brown wax also shows that the content degrades very slowly, that is great news for anyone like Peter Alyea, Monroe’s colleague on the Library of Congress.
Alyea would like to recover the data stored in the cylinders’ grooves without playing them. To achieve this he captures and analyzes microphotographs of the grooves, a technique pioneered by researchers at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.
Soft wax cylinders were great 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 inside our collection,” Alyea says. “They’re basically invaluable.” Having those recordings captured within a material that appears to endure time-when stored and handled properly-may seem like a stroke of fortune, but it’s not so surprising thinking about the material’s progenitor.
“Edison was the engineer’s engineer,” Alyea says. The modifications he and Aylsworth intended to their formulations always served a purpose: to make their cylinders heartier, longer playing, or higher fidelity. These considerations and the corresponding advances in formulations triggered his second-generation moldable black wax and eventually to Blue Amberol Records, which were cylinders made out of blue celluloid plastic rather than wax.
However if these cylinders were so excellent, why did the record industry switch to flat platters? It’s easier 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 will be the chair of your Cylinder Subcommittee for ARSC and had encouraged the Library of Congress to begin the metal soaps project Monroe is working on.
In 1895, Berliner introduced discs according to shellac, a resin secreted by female lac bugs, that will turn into a record industry staple for several years. Berliner’s discs used a combination of shellac, clay and cotton fibers, and several carbon black for color, Klinger says. Record makers manufactured countless discs by using this brittle and relatively inexpensive material.
“Shellac records dominated the marketplace from 1912 to 1952,” Klinger says. Most of these discs have become 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 aid a groove and stand up to a record needle.
Edison and Aylsworth also stepped the chemistry of disc records using a material called Condensite in 1912. “I feel that is probably 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, which had been acknowledged as the world’s first synthetic plastic by 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 through the high-temperature molding process, which deformed a disc’s surface, Klinger explains.
Edison was literally using a bunch of Condensite daily in 1914, but the material never supplanted shellac, largely because Edison’s superior product came with a substantially higher price, Klinger says. Edison stopped producing records in 1929.
But when Columbia Records released vinyl long-playing records, or LPs, in 1948, shellac’s days from the music industry were numbered. Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) records supply a quieter surface, store more music, and therefore 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 another reason for why vinyl stumbled on dominate records. “It’s cheap, and it’s easily molded,” he says. Although he can’t speak to the precise composition of today’s vinyl, he does share some general insights into the plastic.
PVC is mainly amorphous, but with a happy accident in the free-radical-mediated reactions that build polymer chains from smaller subunits, the material is 10 to 20% crystalline, Mathias says. For that reason, PVC has enough structural fortitude to assist a groove and stand up to an archive needle without compromising smoothness.
Without the additives, PVC is obvious-ish, Mathias says, so record vinyl needs something like 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 along with polyimides. These materials have better thermal stability than vinyl, which is proven to warp when left in cars on sunny days. Polyimides may also reproduce grooves better and give a much 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 discover a PVC composition that’s optimized for thicker, heavier records with deeper grooves to present listeners a sturdier, high quality product. Although Salstrom could be astonished at the resurgence in vinyl, he’s not seeking to give anyone any reasons to stop listening.
A soft brush usually can handle any dust that settles with a vinyl record. But just how can listeners cope with more tenacious dirt and grime?
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 helps the pvc compound get into-and away 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 for connecting it to some hydrophilic chain of repeating ethylene oxide units.
Finally, the 7 is a measure of how many moles of ethylene oxide happen to be in the surfactant. The greater the number, the better 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 end result is a mild, fast-rinsing surfactant that can get inside and outside of grooves quickly, Cameron explains. The not so good news for vinyl audiophiles who might choose to do this at home is Dow typically doesn’t sell surfactants straight to consumers. Their customers are usually companies who make cleaning products.