At Quality Record Pressings in Salina, Kan., the influx of orders for vinyl records is so excellent the staff has been turning away requests since September. This resurgence in pvc compound popularity blindsided Gary Salstrom, the company’s general manger. The organization is just 5yrs old, but Salstrom continues to be making records for the living since 1979.
“I can’t explain to you how surprised I am,” he says.
Listeners aren’t just demanding more records; they want 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 compact 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 within the musical world is becoming pressed as well. 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 and a new wave of record collectors are supporting vinyl’s second coming, scientists are considering the chemistry of materials that carry and also have carried sounds within their grooves as time passes. They hope that by doing this, they will likely boost their capacity 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 find out the way they age and degrade. To aid with that, he or she is examining a story of litigation and skulduggery.
Although wax cylinders may seem like a primitive storage medium, these were a revelation at the time. Edison invented the phonograph in 1877 using cylinders covered with tinfoil, but he shelved the project to operate about the lightbulb, as outlined by sources with the Library of Congress.
But Edison was lured back into the audio game after Alexander Graham Bell with his fantastic Volta Laboratory had created wax cylinders. Working with chemist Jonas Aylsworth, Edison soon created a superior brown wax for recording cylinders.
“From an industrial viewpoint, the content is beautiful,” Monroe says. He started concentrating on this history project in September but, before that, was working in the specialty chemical firm Milliken & Co., giving him an original industrial viewpoint of your material.
“It’s rather minimalist. It’s just good enough for the purpose it must be,” he says. “It’s not overengineered.” There was one looming trouble with the beautiful brown wax, though: Edison and Aylsworth never patented it.
Enter Thomas H. MacDonald of American Graphophone Co., who basically paid people away and off to help him copy Edison’s recipe, Monroe says. MacDonald then filed for a patent in the brown wax in 1898. However 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 needed to be individually grooved using a cutting stylus. Nevertheless the black wax might be cast into grooved molds, making it possible for mass production of records.
Unfortunately for Edison and Aylsworth, the black wax had been a direct chemical descendant from the brown wax that legally belonged to American Graphophone, so American Graphophone sued Edison’s National Phonograph Co. Fortunately for the defendants, Aylsworth’s lab notebooks indicated that Team Edison had, actually, developed the brown wax first. The companies eventually settled out of court.
Monroe is capable to study legal depositions in the suit and Aylsworth’s notebooks thanks to the Thomas A. Edison Papers Project at Rutgers University, which can be endeavoring to make a lot more than 5 million pages of documents associated with Edison publicly accessible.
By using these documents, Monroe is tracking how Aylsworth and his awesome colleagues developed waxes and gaining a greater comprehension of the decisions behind the materials’ chemical design. For instance, in an early experiment, Aylsworth produced a soap using sodium hydroxide and industrial stearic acid. At that time, industrial-grade stearic acid was actually a roughly 1:1 blend 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 his notebook. But after a couple of days, the top showed warning signs of crystallization and records made out of it started sounding scratchy. So Aylsworth added aluminum for the mix and found the best combination of “the good, the not so good, and also the necessary” features of all of the ingredients, Monroe explains.
The mix of stearic acid and palmitic is soft, but an excessive amount of it can make for any weak wax. Adding sodium stearate adds some toughness, but it’s also responsible for the crystallization problem. The rigid pvc compound prevents the sodium stearate from crystallizing while also adding a little extra toughness.
In reality, this wax was a tad too tough for Aylsworth’s liking. To soften the wax, he added another fatty acid, oleic acid. But a majority of these cylinders started sweating when summertime rolled around-they exuded moisture trapped from your humid air-and were recalled. Aylsworth then swapped the oleic acid for 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 with his fantastic synthesized samples to guarantee the materials are identical and that the conclusions he draws from testing his materials are legit. As an example, they can look at the organic content of a wax using techniques including mass spectrometry and identify the metals within a sample with X-ray fluorescence.
Monroe revealed the very first comes from these analyses last month at a conference hosted from 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 which can be almost just like Edison’s.
His experiments also suggest that these metal soaps expand and contract quite a bit with changing temperatures. Institutions that preserve wax cylinders, including 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 about 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 implies that the fabric degrades very slowly, that is great news for individuals like Peter Alyea, Monroe’s colleague at the Library of Congress.
Alyea wants to recover the info stored in the cylinders’ grooves without playing them. To do so he captures and analyzes microphotographs of your grooves, a method 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 in to the 1960s. Anthropologists also brought the wax in 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 your collection,” Alyea says. “They’re basically invaluable.” Having those recordings captured in the material that appears to stand up to time-when stored and handled properly-may seem like a stroke of fortune, but it’s not too surprising thinking about the material’s progenitor.
“Edison was the engineer’s engineer,” Alyea says. The changes he and Aylsworth created to their formulations always served a purpose: to create their cylinders heartier, longer playing, or higher fidelity. These considerations and also the corresponding advances in formulations triggered his second-generation moldable black wax and eventually to Blue Amberol Records, that had been cylinders made with blue celluloid plastic as opposed to wax.
But if these cylinders were so excellent, why did the record industry switch to flat platters? It’s much easier to store more flat records in less space, Alyea explains.
Emile Berliner, inventor of your 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 along with encouraged the Library of Congress to begin the metal soaps project Monroe is focusing on.
In 1895, Berliner introduced discs based on shellac, a resin secreted by female lac bugs, that could develop into a record industry staple for decades. Berliner’s discs used a combination of shellac, clay and cotton fibers, and several carbon black for color, Klinger says. Record makers manufactured millions of discs applying this brittle and relatively inexpensive material.
“Shellac records dominated the market from 1912 to 1952,” Klinger says. Several of these discs are called 78s because of the playback speed of 78 revolutions-per-minute, give or go on a few rpm.
PVC has enough structural fortitude to back up a groove and stand up to an archive needle.
Edison and Aylsworth also stepped within the chemistry of disc records having a material called 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 was just like Bakelite, that has 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 throughout the high-temperature molding process, which deformed a disc’s surface, Klinger explains.
Edison was literally using a huge amount of Condensite every day in 1914, however 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.
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 are much 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 for why vinyl arrived at dominate records. “It’s cheap, and it’s easily molded,” he says. Although he can’t speak with the particular composition of today’s vinyl, he does share some general insights in to the plastic.
PVC is mainly amorphous, but by a happy accident in the free-radical-mediated reactions that build polymer chains from smaller subunits, the material is 10 to 20% crystalline, Mathias says. As a result, PVC has enough structural fortitude to aid a groove and resist an archive needle without compromising smoothness.
With no additives, PVC is apparent-ish, Mathias says, so record vinyl needs something such as carbon black to give it its famous black finish.
Finally, if Mathias was deciding on a polymer for records and funds was no object, he’d go along with polyimides. These materials have better thermal stability than vinyl, which has been seen to warp when left in cars on sunny days. Polyimides can also reproduce grooves better and provide an even 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 discover a PVC composition that’s optimized for thicker, heavier records with deeper grooves to present listeners a sturdier, high quality product. Although Salstrom might be surprised by the resurgence in vinyl, he’s not looking to give anyone any top reasons to stop listening.
A soft brush usually can handle any dust that settles over a vinyl record. So how can listeners cope with more tenacious grime and dirt?
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 discover the chemistry that can help the pvc compound go into-and 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 to a hydrophilic chain of repeating ethylene oxide units.
Finally, the 7 is a measure of 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 water-soluble category, Cameron says. Furthermore, she adds, the surfactant doesn’t become viscous or gel-like when mixed with water.
The end result is actually a mild, fast-rinsing surfactant that will get in and out of grooves quickly, Cameron explains. The unhealthy news for vinyl audiophiles who might choose to try this at home is the fact that Dow typically doesn’t sell surfactants right to consumers. Their potential customers are generally companies who make cleaning products.