At Quality Record Pressings in Salina, Kan., the influx of orders for vinyl records has become so excellent the staff has been turning away requests since September. This resurgence in pvc granule popularity blindsided Gary Salstrom, the company’s general manger. The organization is merely 5yrs old, but Salstrom continues to be making records to get a living since 1979.
“I can’t inform you 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 small 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 in 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 within 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 as well as a new wave of record collectors are supporting vinyl’s second coming, scientists are considering the chemistry of materials that carry and get carried sounds inside their grooves as time passes. They hope that in doing so, they will boost their power to create and preserve these records.
Eric B. Monroe, a chemist on the Library of Congress, is studying the composition of one of those particular materials, wax cylinders, to discover how they age and degrade. To help with the, he is examining a story 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 wrapped in tinfoil, but he shelved the project to be effective about the lightbulb, according to sources with 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. Dealing with chemist Jonas Aylsworth, Edison soon developed a superior brown wax for recording cylinders.
“From a commercial viewpoint, the information is beautiful,” Monroe says. He started concentrating on this history project in September but, before that, was working on the specialty chemical firm Milliken & Co., giving him an exclusive industrial viewpoint from the material.
“It’s rather minimalist. It’s just good enough for the purpose it must 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 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 new and improved black wax.
To record sound into brown wax cylinders, each one of these must be individually grooved having a cutting stylus. But the black wax could be cast into grooved molds, enabling mass manufacturing 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 to the defendants, Aylsworth’s lab notebooks indicated that Team Edison had, in fact, developed the brown wax first. The businesses eventually settled away from court.
Monroe has become able to study legal depositions from the suit and Aylsworth’s notebooks thanks to the Thomas A. Edison Papers Project at Rutgers University, which can be trying to make a lot more than 5 million pages of documents associated with Edison publicly accessible.
Using these documents, Monroe is tracking how Aylsworth and his colleagues developed waxes and gaining a better comprehension of the decisions behind the materials’ chemical design. As an example, within an early experiment, Aylsworth made a soap using sodium hydroxide and industrial stearic acid. At the time, industrial-grade stearic acid had been a roughly 1:1 mix 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 several days, the outer lining showed warning signs of crystallization and records created using it started sounding scratchy. So Aylsworth added aluminum on the mix and discovered the correct mixture of “the good, the negative, along with the necessary” features of all the ingredients, Monroe explains.
The mix of stearic acid and palmitic is soft, but a lot of it can make to get a 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 some additional toughness.
The truth is, this wax was a little 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 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 an essential waterproofing element.
Monroe has become performing chemical analyses for both collection pieces with his fantastic synthesized samples to guarantee the materials are the same and therefore the conclusions he draws from testing his materials are legit. For example, he can look at the organic content of a wax using techniques such as mass spectrometry and identify the metals in a sample with X-ray fluorescence.
Monroe revealed the initial is a result of these analyses recently in a conference hosted through the Association for Recorded Sound Collections, or ARSC. Although his first two tries to make brown wax were too crystalline-his stearic acid was too pure along with no palmitic acid within it-he’s now making substances that are almost just like Edison’s.
His experiments also claim that these metal soaps expand and contract quite a bit 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, which is the common current practice, preservationists should permit the cylinders to warm gradually, Monroe says. This may minimize the stress on the wax and minimize the probability which it will fracture, he adds.
The similarity involving the original brown wax and Monroe’s brown wax also shows that the information degrades very slowly, which can be great news for anyone for example Peter Alyea, Monroe’s colleague on the Library of Congress.
Alyea wishes to recover the details stored in the cylinders’ grooves without playing them. To accomplish this he captures and analyzes microphotographs of your grooves, a technique pioneered by researchers at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.
Soft wax cylinders were perfect 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 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 withstand time-when stored and handled properly-may seem like a stroke of fortune, but it’s less than surprising thinking about the material’s progenitor.
“Edison was the engineer’s engineer,” Alyea says. The alterations he and Aylsworth created to their formulations always served a purpose: to create 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 were cylinders made with blue celluloid plastic instead of wax.
But if these cylinders were so excellent, why did the record industry move 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 may 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 will become a record industry staple for several years. Berliner’s discs used a blend of shellac, clay and cotton fibers, and a few carbon black for color, Klinger says. Record makers manufactured countless discs by using this brittle and relatively inexpensive material.
“Shellac records dominated the market from 1912 to 1952,” Klinger says. Many of these discs are known as 78s for their 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 up the chemistry of disc records by using a material generally known as Condensite in 1912. “I believe 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 similar to Bakelite, which had been recognized 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 avoid water vapor from forming through the high-temperature molding process, which deformed a disc’s surface, Klinger explains.
Edison was literally using a ton of Condensite each day in 1914, nevertheless 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 within the music industry were numbered. Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) records offer 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 with the University of Southern Mississippi, offers another reason why vinyl got to 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 in to the plastic.
PVC is usually amorphous, but from a happy accident of the free-radical-mediated reactions that build polymer chains from smaller subunits, the content is 10 to 20% crystalline, Mathias says. Consequently, PVC has enough structural fortitude to aid a groove and endure an archive needle without compromising smoothness.
Without having additives, PVC is clear-ish, Mathias says, so record vinyl needs something like carbon black to give it its famous black finish.
Finally, if Mathias was selecting a polymer for records and cash was no object, he’d go with polyimides. These materials have better thermal stability than vinyl, which was proven to warp when left in cars on sunny days. Polyimides may also reproduce grooves better and give a more frictionless surface, Mathias adds.
But chemists are still 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 present listeners a sturdier, higher quality product. Although Salstrom could be astonished at the resurgence in vinyl, he’s not trying to give anyone any good reasons to stop listening.
A soft brush typically handle any dust that settles on a vinyl record. But exactly how can listeners deal with 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 pvc compound end up in-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 your hydrocarbon chain in order to connect it to your hydrophilic chain of repeating ethylene oxide units.
Finally, the 7 can be a way of measuring just how many moles of ethylene oxide will be in the surfactant. The greater the number, the more water-soluble the compound is. Seven is squarely in the water-soluble category, Cameron says. Furthermore, she adds, the surfactant doesn’t become viscous or gel-like when mixed with water.
The outcome is really a mild, fast-rinsing surfactant that can get in and out of grooves quickly, Cameron explains. The negative news for vinyl audiophiles who may wish to use this in your house is that Dow typically doesn’t sell surfactants instantly to consumers. Their clientele are typically companies who make cleaning products.