At Quality Record Pressings in Salina, Kan., the influx of orders for vinyl records is so great 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 five 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 need to listen to more genres on vinyl. Because so many casual music consumers moved onto cassette tapes, compact discs, and then digital downloads in the last several decades, a little contingent of listeners obsessed with audio quality supported a modest niche for certain musical styles on vinyl, notably classic jazz and orchestral recordings.
Now, seemingly the rest inside the musical world gets pressed also. 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, and it also 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 have carried sounds inside their grooves over time. They hope that by doing this, they will likely enhance their capability to create and preserve these records.
Eric B. Monroe, a chemist at the Library of Congress, is studying the composition of among those materials, wax cylinders, to find out the way that they age and degrade. To aid using that, he or she is examining a tale of litigation and skulduggery.
Although wax cylinders may seem like a primitive storage medium, these people were a revelation back then. Edison invented the phonograph in 1877 using cylinders covered with tinfoil, but he shelved the project to be effective about the lightbulb, in accordance with sources on the Library of Congress.
But Edison was lured into the audio game after Alexander Graham Bell and his awesome Volta Laboratory had created wax cylinders. Utilizing 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 working on this history project in September but, before that, was working at the specialty chemical firm Milliken & Co., giving him a unique industrial viewpoint of your material.
“It’s rather minimalist. It’s just good enough for the purpose it needs to be,” he says. “It’s not overengineered.” There was clearly one looming trouble 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 on the brown wax in 1898. But 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 would have to be individually grooved with a cutting stylus. However the black wax could possibly be cast into grooved molds, enabling mass creation of records.
Unfortunately for Edison and Aylsworth, the black wax was actually a direct chemical descendant from the 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 showed that Team Edison had, the truth is, developed the brown wax first. The businesses eventually settled away from court.
Monroe has become in a position to study legal depositions through the suit and Aylsworth’s notebooks on account of the Thomas A. Edison Papers Project at Rutgers University, that is attempting to make over 5 million pages of documents related to Edison publicly accessible.
With such documents, Monroe is tracking how Aylsworth and his colleagues developed waxes and gaining an improved knowledge of the decisions behind the materials’ chemical design. As an illustration, in a early experiment, Aylsworth produced 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 in their notebook. But after a couple of days, the top showed warning signs of crystallization and records created using it started sounding scratchy. So Aylsworth added aluminum to the mix and found the best mixture of “the good, the unhealthy, and also the necessary” features of the ingredients, Monroe explains.
The combination of stearic acid and palmitic is soft, but a lot of it will make for any weak wax. Adding sodium stearate adds some toughness, but it’s also accountable for the crystallization problem. The rigid pvc compound prevents the sodium stearate from crystallizing while also adding some extra toughness.
In reality, this wax was a little 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 an important waterproofing element.
Monroe has been performing chemical analyses for both collection pieces along with his synthesized samples to ensure the materials are similar which the conclusions he draws from testing his materials are legit. For example, they can check the organic content of your wax using techniques such as mass spectrometry and identify the metals in a sample with X-ray fluorescence.
Monroe revealed the first is a result of these analyses recently at the 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 inside-he’s now making substances that are almost just like Edison’s.
His experiments also suggest that these metal soaps expand and contract a lot 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 directly to room temperature, which is the common current practice, preservationists should allow the cylinders to warm gradually, Monroe says. This will minimize the stress around the wax and minimize the probability it will fracture, he adds.
The similarity in between the original brown wax and Monroe’s brown wax also suggests that the content degrades very slowly, which can be great news for individuals like Peter Alyea, Monroe’s colleague with the Library of Congress.
Alyea would like to recover the data kept in the cylinders’ grooves without playing them. To do this he captures and analyzes microphotographs from 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 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 ten thousand cylinders with recordings of Native Americans within our collection,” Alyea says. “They’re basically invaluable.” Having those recordings captured in the material that appears to endure time-when stored and handled properly-might appear to be a stroke of fortune, but it’s less than surprising taking into consideration the material’s progenitor.
“Edison was the engineer’s engineer,” Alyea says. The alterations he and Aylsworth intended 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 led to his second-generation moldable black wax and eventually to Blue Amberol Records, which were cylinders made using blue celluloid plastic rather than wax.
However if these cylinders were so great, why did the record industry change to flat platters? It’s easier 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 may be the chair of your Cylinder Subcommittee for ARSC along with encouraged the Library of Congress to begin the metal soaps project Monroe is working on.
In 1895, Berliner introduced discs based upon shellac, a resin secreted by female lac bugs, that would turn into a record industry staple for several years. Berliner’s discs used a mixture of shellac, clay and cotton fibers, and several carbon black for color, Klinger says. Record makers manufactured numerous discs using this brittle and relatively inexpensive material.
“Shellac records dominated the market from 1912 to 1952,” Klinger says. Several of these discs are known as 78s because of the playback speed of 78 revolutions-per-minute, give or go on a few rpm.
PVC has enough structural fortitude to support a groove and resist a record needle.
Edison and Aylsworth also stepped up the chemistry of disc records by using a material referred to as Condensite in 1912. “I think that is by far 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 that was much like Bakelite, that has been defined 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 prevent water vapor from forming during the high-temperature molding process, which deformed a disc’s surface, Klinger explains.
Edison was literally using a bunch of Condensite daily in 1914, nevertheless the material never supplanted shellac, largely because Edison’s superior product was included 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 so are a lot less brittle than shellac discs, Klinger says.
Lon J. Mathias, a polymer chemist and professor emeritus on the University of Southern Mississippi, offers one more reason why vinyl arrived at dominate records. “It’s cheap, and it’s easily molded,” he says. Although he can’t speak to the actual composition of today’s vinyl, he does share some general insights in to the plastic.
PVC is mainly amorphous, but by 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. As a result, PVC has enough structural fortitude to back up a groove and withstand a record needle without compromising smoothness.
Without the additives, PVC is obvious-ish, Mathias says, so record vinyl needs something similar to 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 with polyimides. These materials have better thermal stability than vinyl, that has been seen to warp when left in cars on sunny days. Polyimides may also reproduce grooves better and give a far 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 find a PVC composition that’s optimized for thicker, heavier records with deeper grooves to present listeners a sturdier, higher quality product. Although Salstrom can be surprised by the resurgence in vinyl, he’s not looking to give anyone any excellent reasons to stop listening.
A soft brush usually can handle any dust that settles over a vinyl record. But 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 discover the chemistry that assists the clear pvc granule go into-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 the hydrocarbon chain for connecting it into a hydrophilic chain of repeating ethylene oxide units.
Finally, the 7 is actually a way of measuring just how many moles of ethylene oxide are in the surfactant. The greater the number, the more 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 is actually a mild, fast-rinsing surfactant that could get in and out of grooves quickly, Cameron explains. The negative news for vinyl audiophiles who may wish to do this in your house is the fact Dow typically doesn’t sell surfactants instantly to consumers. Their clients are often companies who make cleaning products.