At Quality Record Pressings in Salina, Kan., the influx of orders for vinyl records is so great that this staff has become turning away requests since September. This resurgence in pvc compound popularity blindsided Gary Salstrom, the company’s general manger. The business is just five-years old, but Salstrom continues to be 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. Because so many casual music consumers moved onto cassette tapes, compact discs, then digital downloads during the last several decades, a small contingent of listeners passionate about audio quality supported a modest market for certain musical styles on vinyl, notably classic jazz and orchestral recordings.
Now, seemingly the rest within the musical world gets pressed too. The Recording Industry Association of America reported that vinyl record sales in 2015 exceeded $400 million in the U.S. That figure is vinyl’s highest since 1988, and it beat out revenue from ad-supported online music streaming, such as 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 also have carried sounds within their grooves with time. They hope that by doing this, they will boost their power to create and preserve these records.
Eric B. Monroe, a chemist at the Library of Congress, is studying the composition of one of those particular materials, wax cylinders, to discover the way that they age and degrade. To aid with that, he or she is examining a story of litigation and skulduggery.
Although wax cylinders might appear to be 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, as outlined by 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 with the specialty chemical firm Milliken & Co., giving him a unique industrial viewpoint in the material.
“It’s rather minimalist. It’s just good enough for which it must be,” he says. “It’s not overengineered.” There was one looming downside to 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 around the brown wax in 1898. However the lawsuit didn’t come until after Edison and Aylsworth introduced a new and improved black wax.
To record sound into brown wax cylinders, every one needed to be individually grooved with a cutting stylus. Nevertheless the black wax might be cast into grooved molds, permitting mass production of records.
Unfortunately for Edison and Aylsworth, the black wax was actually a direct chemical descendant of 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 indicated that Team Edison had, in reality, developed the brown wax first. The businesses eventually settled away from court.
Monroe has been able to study legal depositions through the suit and Aylsworth’s notebooks thanks to the Thomas A. Edison Papers Project at Rutgers University, which is working to make a lot more than 5 million pages of documents relevant to Edison publicly accessible.
With such documents, Monroe is tracking how Aylsworth and his awesome colleagues developed waxes and gaining a much better comprehension of the decisions behind the materials’ chemical design. For instance, within an early experiment, Aylsworth made a soap using sodium hydroxide and industrial stearic acid. During the time, industrial-grade stearic acid was actually a roughly 1:1 combination 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 few days, the top showed signs of crystallization and records made out of it started sounding scratchy. So Aylsworth added aluminum on the mix and found the proper blend of “the good, the unhealthy, as well as the necessary” features of all the ingredients, Monroe explains.
The mix of stearic acid and palmitic is soft, but an excessive amount of this makes for a weak wax. Adding sodium stearate adds some toughness, but it’s also in charge of the crystallization problem. The upvc compound prevents the sodium stearate from crystallizing while also adding additional toughness.
Actually, 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 in the humid air-and were recalled. Aylsworth then swapped out of the oleic acid for the simple hydrocarbon wax, ceresin. Like oleic acid, it softened the wax. Unlike oleic acid, it added an important waterproofing element.
Monroe is performing chemical analyses on both collection pieces with his fantastic synthesized samples to guarantee the materials are the same and this the conclusions he draws from testing his materials are legit. As an example, he is able to look at the organic content of your wax using techniques like mass spectrometry and identify the metals in the sample with X-ray fluorescence.
Monroe revealed the 1st results from these analyses recently at a conference hosted from the Association for Recorded Sound Collections, or ARSC. Although his first couple of tries 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 that are almost identical to Edison’s.
His experiments also claim that these metal soaps expand and contract a great deal with changing temperatures. Institutions that preserve wax cylinders, like universities and libraries, usually store their collections at about 10 °C. Rather than bringing the cylinders from cold storage straight to room temperature, which is the common current practice, preservationists should enable the cylinders to warm gradually, Monroe says. This may minimize the stress in the wax and lower the probability it will fracture, he adds.
The similarity in between the original brown wax and Monroe’s brown wax also suggests that the information degrades very slowly, which is great news for folks for example Peter Alyea, Monroe’s colleague on the Library of Congress.
Alyea desires to recover the data held 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 ideal 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 within our collection,” Alyea says. “They’re basically invaluable.” Having those recordings captured in the 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 alterations he and Aylsworth designed to their formulations always served a purpose: to help make their cylinders heartier, longer playing, or higher fidelity. These considerations and also the corresponding advances in formulations generated his second-generation moldable black wax and eventually to Blue Amberol Records, which were cylinders created using blue celluloid plastic instead of wax.
But if these cylinders were so excellent, why did the record industry move to flat platters? It’s quicker 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 is definitely the chair from the Cylinder Subcommittee for ARSC and had encouraged the Library of Congress to get started on the metal soaps project Monroe is working on.
In 1895, Berliner introduced discs according to shellac, a resin secreted by female lac bugs, that would turn into a record industry staple for years. Berliner’s discs used a combination of shellac, clay and cotton fibers, and a few carbon black for color, Klinger says. Record makers manufactured countless discs using this brittle and comparatively cheap material.
“Shellac records dominated the marketplace from 1912 to 1952,” Klinger says. A number of these discs are referred to as 78s because of the playback speed of 78 revolutions-per-minute, give or have a few rpm.
PVC has enough structural fortitude to support a groove and withstand a record needle.
Edison and Aylsworth also stepped up the chemistry of disc records with a material called Condensite in 1912. “I believe 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 which was much like Bakelite, which had been defined 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 in the high-temperature molding process, which deformed a disc’s surface, Klinger explains.
Edison was literally using a huge amount of Condensite daily in 1914, however the material never supplanted shellac, largely because Edison’s superior product was included with a substantially higher asking price, Klinger says. Edison stopped producing records in 1929.
But 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 supply a quieter surface, store more music, and they are a lot 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 stumbled on dominate records. “It’s cheap, and it’s easily molded,” he says. Although he can’t speak with the specific composition of today’s vinyl, he does share some general insights in to the plastic.
PVC is mostly amorphous, but with a happy accident in the free-radical-mediated reactions that build polymer chains from smaller subunits, the content is 10 to 20% crystalline, Mathias says. For that reason, PVC has enough structural fortitude to aid a groove and resist a record needle without compromising smoothness.
Without having additives, PVC is obvious-ish, Mathias says, so record vinyl needs such as carbon black allow it its famous black finish.
Finally, if Mathias was choosing a polymer for records and cash was no object, he’d choose polyimides. These materials have better thermal stability than vinyl, which has been recognized to warp when left in cars on sunny days. Polyimides may also reproduce grooves better and offer a far 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 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, higher quality product. Although Salstrom might be amazed at the resurgence in vinyl, he’s not planning to give anyone any top reasons to stop listening.
A soft brush typically handle any dust that settles on a vinyl record. But how can listeners cope 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 which helps the pvc compound end up in-and out from-the groove.
Molecules in Tergitol 15-S-7 possess hydrophobic hydrocarbon chains which 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 to get in touch it to some hydrophilic chain of repeating ethylene oxide units.
Finally, the 7 is actually a measure of just how many moles of ethylene oxide happen to be in the surfactant. The greater the number, the greater 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 together with water.
The result can be a mild, fast-rinsing surfactant that can get in and out of grooves quickly, Cameron explains. The bad news for vinyl audiophiles who might choose to do this at home is that Dow typically doesn’t sell surfactants straight to consumers. Their customers are generally companies who make cleaning products.