At Quality Record Pressings in Salina, Kan., the influx of orders for vinyl records continues to be so great that this staff is turning away requests since September. This resurgence in pvc granule popularity blindsided Gary Salstrom, the company’s general manger. The corporation is definitely five-years old, but Salstrom is making records for a living since 1979.
“I can’t let you know how surprised I am,” he says.
Listeners aren’t just demanding more records; they wish to tune in to more genres on vinyl. As many casual music consumers moved onto cassette tapes, compact discs, after which digital downloads over the past several decades, a tiny contingent of listeners enthusiastic about audio quality supported a modest market for certain musical styles on vinyl, notably classic jazz and orchestral recordings.
Now, seemingly everything from the musical world is to get pressed as well. The Recording Industry Association of America reported that vinyl record sales in 2015 exceeded $400 million inside the U.S. That figure is vinyl’s highest since 1988, plus it 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 also have carried sounds with their grooves after a while. They hope that in doing so, they are going to increase their capability to create and preserve these records.
Eric B. Monroe, a chemist in the Library of Congress, is studying the composition of among those materials, wax cylinders, to discover the way they age and degrade. To help you with this, he or she is examining a story of litigation and skulduggery.
Although wax cylinders may seem like a primitive storage medium, these folks were a revelation during the time. Edison invented the phonograph in 1877 using cylinders covered with tinfoil, but he shelved the project to operate around the lightbulb, according to sources at the Library of Congress.
But Edison was lured back into the audio game after Alexander Graham Bell and his awesome Volta Laboratory had created wax cylinders. Working together with chemist Jonas Aylsworth, Edison soon created a superior brown wax for recording cylinders.
“From a commercial viewpoint, the content 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 from the material.
“It’s rather minimalist. It’s just suitable for which it must be,” he says. “It’s not overengineered.” There is one looming issue with the beautiful 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 in the brown wax in 1898. Although 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, every one had to be individually grooved using a cutting stylus. However the black wax might be cast into grooved molds, permitting mass manufacture 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 that defendants, Aylsworth’s lab notebooks showed that Team Edison had, the truth is, developed the brown wax first. The firms eventually settled from court.
Monroe is able to study legal depositions in the suit and Aylsworth’s notebooks thanks to 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.
With such documents, Monroe is tracking how Aylsworth with his fantastic colleagues developed waxes and gaining a much better understanding of the decisions behind the materials’ chemical design. As an illustration, within an early experiment, Aylsworth created a soap using sodium hydroxide and industrial stearic acid. At that time, industrial-grade stearic acid was 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 the notebook. But after a couple of days, the surface showed signs and symptoms of crystallization and records made using it started sounding scratchy. So Aylsworth added aluminum to the mix and discovered the correct combination of “the good, the not so good, and the necessary” features of all ingredients, Monroe explains.
The combination of stearic acid and palmitic is soft, but an excessive amount of it will make to get a weak wax. Adding sodium stearate adds some toughness, but it’s also accountable for the crystallization problem. The soft pvc granule prevents the sodium stearate from crystallizing whilst adding a little extra toughness.
The truth is, this wax was a touch 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 of the oleic acid for 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 collection pieces along with his synthesized samples to be sure the materials are identical which the conclusions he draws from testing his materials are legit. As an illustration, he could look into 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 very first results from these analyses last month with a conference hosted through 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 in it-he’s now making substances which are almost identical to Edison’s.
His experiments also propose that these metal soaps expand and contract quite a bit with changing temperatures. Institutions that preserve wax cylinders, such as universities and libraries, usually store their collections at about 10 °C. Instead of bringing the cylinders from cold storage straight to room temperature, the common current practice, preservationists should enable the cylinders to warm gradually, Monroe says. This will likely minimize the strain on 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 demonstrates that the information degrades very slowly, that is great news for individuals including Peter Alyea, Monroe’s colleague in the Library of Congress.
Alyea wants to recover the information kept in the cylinders’ grooves without playing them. To do this he captures and analyzes microphotographs in the grooves, a strategy 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 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 created to their formulations always served a purpose: to 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 finally to Blue Amberol Records, that have been cylinders made out of blue celluloid plastic as opposed to wax.
But when these cylinders were so excellent, why did the record industry switch to flat platters? It’s simpler 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 the chair from the Cylinder Subcommittee for ARSC and had encouraged the Library of Congress to begin the metal soaps project Monroe is taking care of.
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 some carbon black for color, Klinger says. Record makers manufactured millions of discs by using this brittle and comparatively cheap material.
“Shellac records dominated the business from 1912 to 1952,” Klinger says. Most of these discs are now known as 78s because of their playback speed of 78 revolutions-per-minute, give or have a few rpm.
PVC has enough structural fortitude to support a groove and resist a record needle.
Edison and Aylsworth also stepped within the chemistry of disc records having a material generally known as Condensite in 1912. “I believe 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 much like Bakelite, that has been recognized 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 avoid 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 each 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.
However when Columbia Records released vinyl long-playing records, or LPs, in 1948, shellac’s days within 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 at the University of Southern Mississippi, offers one more reason for why vinyl arrived at 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 in to the plastic.
PVC is usually amorphous, but by a happy accident in 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 support a groove and resist a record needle without compromising smoothness.
Without the additives, PVC is apparent-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 to use for records and funds was no object, he’d choose polyimides. These materials have better thermal stability than vinyl, which was known to warp when left in cars on sunny days. Polyimides also can 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 working with his vinyl supplier to identify a PVC composition that’s optimized for thicker, heavier records with deeper grooves to offer listeners a sturdier, better quality product. Although Salstrom may be surprised at the resurgence in vinyl, he’s not trying to give anyone any good reasons to stop listening.
A soft brush can usually handle any dust that settles on the vinyl record. But exactly how can listeners take care of more tenacious dirt and grime?
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 learn about the chemistry that helps the pvc compound enter 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 of your hydrocarbon chain to connect it into a hydrophilic chain of repeating ethylene oxide units.
Finally, the 7 is a measure of the amount of moles of ethylene oxide have been in the surfactant. The greater the number, the better 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 together with water.
The final result is actually a mild, fast-rinsing surfactant that may get out and in of grooves quickly, Cameron explains. The not so good news for vinyl audiophiles who might choose to do this in your house is that Dow typically doesn’t sell surfactants right to consumers. Their customers are typically companies who make cleaning products.