At Quality Record Pressings in Salina, Kan., the influx of orders for vinyl records has been so excellent that this staff has been turning away requests since September. This resurgence in pvc pellet popularity blindsided Gary Salstrom, the company’s general manger. The business is merely five years old, but Salstrom has become making records for any living since 1979.
“I can’t let you know how surprised I am,” he says.
Listeners aren’t just demanding more records; they need to hear 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 tiny 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 everything in the musical world is getting pressed at the same time. 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, plus it 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 looking at the chemistry of materials that carry and possess carried sounds with their grooves as time passes. They hope that by doing this, they are going to boost their ability to create and preserve these records.
Eric B. Monroe, a chemist at the Library of Congress, is studying the composition of one of those materials, wax cylinders, to determine the way they age and degrade. To assist with that, he is examining a story of litigation and skulduggery.
Although wax cylinders may seem like a primitive storage medium, these were a revelation back then. Edison invented the phonograph in 1877 using cylinders wrapped in tinfoil, but he shelved the project to operate on the lightbulb, in accordance with sources on 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. Utilizing chemist Jonas Aylsworth, Edison soon developed a superior brown wax for recording cylinders.
“From an industrial viewpoint, the content is beautiful,” Monroe says. He started taking care of this history project in September but, before that, was working in the specialty chemical firm Milliken & Co., giving him a distinctive industrial viewpoint in the material.
“It’s rather minimalist. It’s just good enough for the purpose it needs to be,” he says. “It’s not overengineered.” There seemed to be one looming issue with the stunning 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 declared a patent in the brown wax in 1898. However 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 must be individually grooved with a cutting stylus. However the black wax might be cast into grooved molds, permitting mass manufacturing 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 your defendants, Aylsworth’s lab notebooks showed that Team Edison had, in reality, developed the brown wax first. The companies eventually settled out of court.
Monroe has become capable of study legal depositions in the suit and Aylsworth’s notebooks thanks to the Thomas A. Edison Papers Project at Rutgers University, which happens to be trying to make more than 5 million pages of documents linked to Edison publicly accessible.
With such documents, Monroe is tracking how Aylsworth and his colleagues developed waxes and gaining an improved understanding of the decisions behind the materials’ chemical design. For example, within an early experiment, Aylsworth crafted a soap using sodium hydroxide and industrial stearic acid. Back then, industrial-grade stearic acid was a roughly 1:1 mix of stearic acid and palmitic acid, two fatty acids that differ by two carbon atoms.
That early soap was “almost perfection,” Aylsworth remarked within his notebook. But after a few days, the outer lining showed warning signs of crystallization and records made using it started sounding scratchy. So Aylsworth added aluminum towards the mix and discovered the right mixture of “the good, the not so good, and the necessary” features of all of the ingredients, Monroe explains.
This mixture of stearic acid and palmitic is soft, but a lot of it can make for the weak wax. Adding sodium stearate adds some toughness, but it’s also in charge of the crystallization problem. The rigid pvc compound prevents the sodium stearate from crystallizing whilst adding some extra toughness.
Actually, 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 in the humid air-and were recalled. Aylsworth then swapped out of the oleic acid to get a simple hydrocarbon wax, ceresin. Like oleic acid, it softened the wax. Unlike oleic acid, it added an essential waterproofing element.
Monroe has become performing chemical analyses for both collection pieces along with his synthesized samples to guarantee the materials are exactly the same and therefore the conclusions he draws from testing his materials are legit. As an example, he could look at the organic content of the wax using techniques for example mass spectrometry and identify the metals inside a sample with X-ray fluorescence.
Monroe revealed the initial is a result of these analyses recently at the conference hosted with the Association for Recorded Sound Collections, or ARSC. Although his initial two tries 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 that are almost just like Edison’s.
His experiments also advise that these metal soaps expand and contract a great deal with changing temperatures. Institutions that preserve wax cylinders, for example universities and libraries, usually store their collections at about 10 °C. As an alternative to bringing the cylinders from cold storage straight to room temperature, the common current practice, preservationists should permit the cylinders to warm gradually, Monroe says. This may minimize the strain on the wax and reduce the probability that this will fracture, he adds.
The similarity between your original brown wax and Monroe’s brown wax also suggests that the content degrades very slowly, that is great news for anyone for example Peter Alyea, Monroe’s colleague in the Library of Congress.
Alyea wants to recover the data saved in the cylinders’ grooves without playing them. To accomplish this he captures and analyzes microphotographs from the grooves, a method 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 the 1960s. Anthropologists also brought the wax 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 in our collection,” Alyea says. “They’re basically invaluable.” Having those recordings captured within a material that appears to withstand time-when stored and handled properly-may seem like a stroke of fortune, but it’s not so surprising with the material’s progenitor.
“Edison was the engineer’s engineer,” Alyea says. The adjustments he and Aylsworth intended to their formulations always served a purpose: to create their cylinders heartier, longer playing, or higher fidelity. These considerations as well as the corresponding advances in formulations generated his second-generation moldable black wax and in the end to Blue Amberol Records, that were cylinders made using blue celluloid plastic as an alternative to wax.
However if these cylinders were so great, why did the record industry change to flat platters? It’s quicker to store more flat records in less space, Alyea explains.
Emile Berliner, inventor in the gramophone, introduced disc-shaped gramophone records pressed in celluloid and hard rubber around 1890, says Bill Klinger. Klinger will be the chair from the Cylinder Subcommittee for ARSC and had encouraged the Library of Congress to start the metal soaps project Monroe is taking care of.
In 1895, Berliner introduced discs depending on shellac, a resin secreted by female lac bugs, that will be a record industry staple for many years. Berliner’s discs used an assortment of shellac, clay and cotton fibers, and several carbon black for color, Klinger says. Record makers manufactured numerous discs employing this brittle and relatively inexpensive material.
“Shellac records dominated the industry from 1912 to 1952,” Klinger says. Many of these discs are now known as 78s for their playback speed of 78 revolutions-per-minute, give or require a few rpm.
PVC has enough structural fortitude to aid a groove and resist a record needle.
Edison and Aylsworth also stepped within the chemistry of disc records using a material known as Condensite in 1912. “I assume that is essentially the most impressive chemistry in 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 which had been much like Bakelite, which was 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 bunch of Condensite every day in 1914, nevertheless 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.
However 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 offer a quieter surface, store more music, and they are far less brittle than shellac discs, Klinger says.
Lon J. Mathias, a polymer chemist and professor emeritus on the University of Southern Mississippi, offers one other reason for why vinyl got to dominate records. “It’s cheap, and it’s easily molded,” he says. Although he can’t talk to the actual composition of today’s vinyl, he does share some general insights in to the plastic.
PVC is generally amorphous, but from a happy accident of your free-radical-mediated reactions that build polymer chains from smaller subunits, the content is 10 to 20% crystalline, Mathias says. Because of this, PVC has enough structural fortitude to assist a groove and endure a record needle without compromising smoothness.
Without any additives, PVC is obvious-ish, Mathias says, so record vinyl needs something similar to carbon black to give it its famous black finish.
Finally, if Mathias was choosing 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 is proven to warp when left in cars on sunny days. Polyimides may also reproduce grooves better and offer a much more frictionless surface, Mathias adds.
But chemists are still tweaking and improving vinyl’s formulation, says Salstrom of Quality Record Pressings. He’s utilizing his vinyl supplier to locate a PVC composition that’s optimized for thicker, heavier records with deeper grooves to present listeners a sturdier, high quality product. Although Salstrom can be amazed at the resurgence in vinyl, he’s not planning to give anyone any excellent reasons to stop listening.
A soft brush usually can handle any dust that settles on the vinyl record. But just how can listeners handle more tenacious dirt and grime?
The Library of Congress shares a recipe for any 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 can help the pvc compound go 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 the hydrocarbon chain to get in touch it into a hydrophilic chain of repeating ethylene oxide units.
Finally, the 7 is really a measure of just how many moles of ethylene oxide will be 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 blended with water.
The outcome is a mild, fast-rinsing surfactant that can get in and out of grooves quickly, Cameron explains. The negative news for vinyl audiophiles who might want to do this in your own home is that Dow typically doesn’t sell surfactants directly to consumers. Their clientele are often companies who make cleaning products.