At Quality Record Pressings in Salina, Kan., the influx of orders for vinyl records continues to be so excellent how the staff has been turning away requests since September. This resurgence in pvc compound popularity blindsided Gary Salstrom, the company’s general manger. The company is just 5yrs old, but Salstrom is making records for a living since 1979.
“I can’t inform you how surprised I am just,” he says.
Listeners aren’t just demanding more records; they need to hear more genres on vinyl. As most casual music consumers moved onto cassette tapes, compact discs, then digital downloads within the last several decades, a tiny contingent of listeners obsessed with audio quality supported a modest market for certain musical styles on vinyl, notably classic jazz and orchestral recordings.
Now, seemingly the rest inside the musical world is becoming pressed also. The Recording Industry Association of America reported that vinyl record sales in 2015 exceeded $400 million from the Usa 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 get carried sounds within their grooves as time passes. They hope that in doing so, they will increase their capacity 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 they age and degrade. To assist with this, he is examining a story of litigation and skulduggery.
Although wax cylinders may seem like a primitive storage medium, these folks were a revelation back then. Edison invented the phonograph in 1877 using cylinders wrapped in tinfoil, but he shelved the project to be effective about the lightbulb, as outlined by 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 from the material.
“It’s rather minimalist. It’s just suitable for the purpose it needs to be,” he says. “It’s not overengineered.” There is one looming downside to the gorgeous 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 declared a patent about the brown wax in 1898. Nevertheless the lawsuit didn’t come until after Edison and Aylsworth introduced a brand new and improved black wax.
To record sound into brown wax cylinders, each one would have to be individually grooved by using a cutting stylus. Although the black wax could possibly be cast into grooved molds, enabling 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 that defendants, Aylsworth’s lab notebooks revealed that Team Edison had, in reality, developed the brown wax first. The companies eventually settled out from 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 is working to make over 5 million pages of documents related to Edison publicly accessible.
Utilizing these documents, Monroe is tracking how Aylsworth along with his colleagues developed waxes and gaining an improved knowledge of the decisions behind the materials’ chemical design. As an illustration, inside an early experiment, Aylsworth produced a soap using sodium hydroxide and industrial stearic acid. At that time, industrial-grade stearic acid was really a roughly 1:1 combination of stearic acid and palmitic acid, two 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 surface showed warning signs of crystallization and records made with it started sounding scratchy. So Aylsworth added aluminum on the mix and located the proper mix of “the good, the not so good, along with the necessary” features of the ingredients, Monroe explains.
The mix of stearic acid and palmitic is soft, but way too much of it will make for a weak wax. Adding sodium stearate adds some toughness, but it’s also liable for the crystallization problem. The upvc compound prevents the sodium stearate from crystallizing whilst adding some extra toughness.
The truth is, this wax was a tad too tough for Aylsworth’s liking. To soften the wax, he added another fatty acid, oleic acid. But most these cylinders started sweating when summertime rolled around-they exuded moisture trapped through the humid air-and were recalled. Aylsworth then swapped out your 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 been performing chemical analyses on both collection pieces and his awesome 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 examine the organic content of your wax using techniques including mass spectrometry and identify the metals within a sample with X-ray fluorescence.
Monroe revealed the initial is a result of these analyses recently with a conference hosted from the Association for Recorded Sound Collections, or ARSC. Although his first couple of attempts to make brown wax were too crystalline-his stearic acid was too pure along with no palmitic acid in it-he’s now making substances that are 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, such as universities and libraries, usually store their collections at about 10 °C. As opposed to bringing the cylinders from cold storage instantly to room temperature, the common current practice, preservationists should allow the cylinders to warm gradually, Monroe says. This will minimize the worries around the wax and lower the probability it will fracture, he adds.
The similarity between your original brown wax and Monroe’s brown wax also implies that the material degrades very slowly, which can be great news for individuals such as Peter Alyea, Monroe’s colleague in the Library of Congress.
Alyea wishes to recover the info held in the cylinders’ grooves without playing them. To achieve this he captures and analyzes microphotographs from the grooves, a strategy 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 to the 1960s. Anthropologists also brought the wax into 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 generally seems to resist time-when stored and handled properly-may seem like a stroke of fortune, but it’s not too surprising with 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 produce their cylinders heartier, longer playing, or higher fidelity. These considerations and the corresponding advances in formulations led to his second-generation moldable black wax and ultimately to Blue Amberol Records, that were cylinders made using blue celluloid plastic as an alternative to wax.
But when 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 get started on 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 could turn into a record industry staple for several years. Berliner’s discs used a combination of shellac, clay and cotton fibers, plus some carbon black for color, Klinger says. Record makers manufactured numerous discs by using this brittle and relatively inexpensive material.
“Shellac records dominated the marketplace from 1912 to 1952,” Klinger says. Most of these discs are now known as 78s due to their playback speed of 78 revolutions-per-minute, give or go on a few rpm.
PVC has enough structural fortitude to support a groove and endure a record needle.
Edison and Aylsworth also stepped the chemistry of disc records having a material referred to as Condensite in 1912. “I think 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 that had been just like Bakelite, that has been accepted as the world’s first synthetic plastic from the American Chemical Society, C&EN’s publisher.
What set Condensite apart, though, was hexamethylenetetramine. Aylsworth added the compound to Condensite to stop water vapor from forming during the high-temperature molding process, which deformed a disc’s surface, Klinger explains.
Edison was literally using a lot of Condensite daily in 1914, nevertheless the material never supplanted shellac, largely because Edison’s superior product came with a substantially higher asking price, Klinger says. Edison stopped producing records in 1929.
But once Columbia Records released vinyl long-playing records, or LPs, in 1948, shellac’s days in the music industry were numbered. Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) records provide a quieter surface, store more music, and 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 arrived at dominate records. “It’s cheap, and it’s easily molded,” he says. Although he can’t speak to the specific composition of today’s vinyl, he does share some general insights to the plastic.
PVC is mainly amorphous, but by way of 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. For that reason, PVC has enough structural fortitude to assist a groove and endure an archive needle without compromising smoothness.
Without the additives, PVC is clear-ish, Mathias says, so record vinyl needs such as carbon black to give it its famous black finish.
Finally, if Mathias was picking a polymer to use 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 also can 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 locate a PVC composition that’s optimized for thicker, heavier records with deeper grooves to present listeners a sturdier, better quality product. Although Salstrom could be surprised by 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 the vinyl record. But exactly how can listeners take care of 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 helps the pvc compound end up in-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 in the hydrocarbon chain to get in touch it into a hydrophilic chain of repeating ethylene oxide units.
Finally, the 7 can be a measure of 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 in water-soluble category, Cameron says. Furthermore, she adds, the surfactant doesn’t become viscous or gel-like when blended with water.
The end result is really a mild, fast-rinsing surfactant that will get in and out of grooves quickly, Cameron explains. The bad news for vinyl audiophiles who may wish to try this at home is the fact Dow typically doesn’t sell surfactants directly to consumers. Their clients are often companies who make cleaning products.