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 corporation is simply 5 years old, but Salstrom has become making records for any living since 1979.
“I can’t tell you how surprised I am just,” he says.
Listeners aren’t just demanding more records; they would like to pay attention to more genres on vinyl. Since many casual music consumers moved onto cassette tapes, compact discs, and then digital downloads within the last several decades, a little contingent of listeners enthusiastic about audio quality supported a modest niche for certain musical styles on vinyl, notably classic jazz and orchestral recordings.
Now, seemingly everything else from the musical world gets pressed as well. 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, and it also beat out revenue from ad-supported online music streaming, for example 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 also have carried sounds with their grooves with time. They hope that in doing so, they may boost 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 learn the direction they age and degrade. To assist using that, he is examining a narrative of litigation and skulduggery.
Although wax cylinders may seem like a primitive storage medium, they were a revelation during the time. Edison invented the phonograph in 1877 using cylinders wrapped in tinfoil, but he shelved the project to function on the lightbulb, based on sources in the Library of Congress.
But Edison was lured into the audio game after Alexander Graham Bell along with his Volta Laboratory had created wax cylinders. Working with chemist Jonas Aylsworth, Edison soon created a superior brown wax for recording cylinders.
“From an industrial viewpoint, the information 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 a distinctive industrial viewpoint in the material.
“It’s rather minimalist. It’s just adequate for which it needs to be,” he says. “It’s not overengineered.” There was clearly 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. 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 one of these must be individually grooved by using a cutting stylus. Nevertheless the black wax could be cast into grooved molds, permitting mass production of records.
Unfortunately for Edison and Aylsworth, the black wax was 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, actually, developed the brown wax first. The firms 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, which happens to be endeavoring to make over 5 million pages of documents related to Edison publicly accessible.
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 instance, inside an early experiment, Aylsworth created a soap using sodium hydroxide and industrial stearic acid. At the 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 within his notebook. But after several days, the outer lining showed warning signs of crystallization and records made using it started sounding scratchy. So Aylsworth added aluminum on the mix and discovered the best mix 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 way too much of it will make for the 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 some additional toughness.
In reality, this wax was a tad too tough for Aylsworth’s liking. To soften the wax, he added another fatty acid, oleic acid. But most of these cylinders started sweating when summertime rolled around-they exuded moisture trapped from the humid air-and were recalled. Aylsworth then swapped out your oleic acid for any simple hydrocarbon wax, ceresin. Like oleic acid, it softened the wax. Unlike oleic acid, it added a vital waterproofing element.
Monroe has been performing chemical analyses for both collection pieces and his awesome synthesized samples to guarantee the materials are the same and therefore the conclusions he draws from testing his materials are legit. For instance, they can look at the organic content of a wax using techniques including mass spectrometry and identify the metals in 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 along with no palmitic acid inside it-he’s now making substances which can be almost identical to Edison’s.
His experiments also suggest that these metal soaps expand and contract quite a bit with changing temperatures. Institutions that preserve wax cylinders, including universities and libraries, usually store their collections at about 10 °C. As opposed to bringing the cylinders from cold storage straight to room temperature, which is the common current practice, preservationists should let the cylinders to warm gradually, Monroe says. This can minimize the anxiety around the wax and minimize the probability that this will fracture, he adds.
The similarity in between the original brown wax and Monroe’s brown wax also shows that the information degrades very slowly, which can be great news for people for example Peter Alyea, Monroe’s colleague in the Library of Congress.
Alyea wants 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 great for recording one-off sessions, Alyea says. Business folks could capture dictations using wax and did so up into 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 10,000 cylinders with recordings of Native Americans inside our collection,” Alyea says. “They’re basically invaluable.” Having those recordings captured inside a material that generally seems to resist time-when stored and handled properly-may seem like a stroke of fortune, but it’s not so 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 help make their cylinders heartier, longer playing, or higher fidelity. These considerations along with the corresponding advances in formulations triggered his second-generation moldable black wax and eventually to Blue Amberol Records, that had been cylinders made with blue celluloid plastic as opposed to wax.
But when these cylinders were so excellent, why did the record industry change to flat platters? It’s simpler 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 will be the chair in the Cylinder Subcommittee for ARSC along with encouraged the Library of Congress to start out the metal soaps project Monroe is concentrating on.
In 1895, Berliner introduced discs according to shellac, a resin secreted by female lac bugs, that might be a record industry staple for several years. Berliner’s discs used a combination of shellac, clay and cotton fibers, plus some carbon black for color, Klinger says. Record makers manufactured millions of discs employing this brittle and relatively inexpensive material.
“Shellac records dominated the industry from 1912 to 1952,” Klinger says. Many of these discs are actually referred to as 78s due to their playback speed of 78 revolutions-per-minute, give or go on 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 within the chemistry of disc records with a material generally known as Condensite in 1912. “I feel that is essentially the most impressive chemistry from 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, which was acknowledged 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 stop water vapor from forming during the high-temperature molding process, which deformed a disc’s surface, Klinger explains.
Edison was literally using a ton of Condensite daily in 1914, although the material never supplanted shellac, largely because Edison’s superior product was included with a substantially higher price, 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 offer a quieter surface, store more music, and therefore are far less brittle than shellac discs, Klinger says.
Lon J. Mathias, a polymer chemist and professor emeritus with 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 talk with the actual composition of today’s vinyl, he does share some general insights into 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. Consequently, PVC has enough structural fortitude to back up a groove and stand up to a record needle without compromising smoothness.
With no additives, PVC is clear-ish, Mathias says, so record vinyl needs such as carbon black to give it its famous black finish.
Finally, if Mathias was deciding on a polymer to use for records and money was no object, he’d opt for polyimides. These materials have better thermal stability than vinyl, which has been known to warp when left in cars on sunny days. Polyimides can also reproduce grooves better and provide a more frictionless surface, Mathias adds.
But chemists will still be tweaking and improving vinyl’s formulation, says Salstrom of Quality Record Pressings. He’s working together with his vinyl supplier to discover a PVC composition that’s optimized for thicker, heavier records with deeper grooves to offer listeners a sturdier, top quality product. Although Salstrom can be astonished at the resurgence in vinyl, he’s not seeking to give anyone any excellent reasons to stop listening.
A soft brush typically handle any dust that settles over a vinyl record. But just how can listeners cope with more tenacious grime and dirt?
The Library of Congress shares a recipe for 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 discover the chemistry that assists the clear pvc granule enter into-and out 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 from the hydrocarbon chain in order to connect it to a hydrophilic chain of repeating ethylene oxide units.
Finally, the 7 is really a measure of the number of moles of ethylene oxide have been 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 outcome can be a mild, fast-rinsing surfactant that can get inside and outside of grooves quickly, Cameron explains. The negative news for vinyl audiophiles who may wish to do this at home is Dow typically doesn’t sell surfactants right to consumers. Their clientele are typically companies who make cleaning products.