At Quality Record Pressings in Salina, Kan., the influx of orders for vinyl records has become so great that the staff has been turning away requests since September. This resurgence in pvc granule popularity blindsided Gary Salstrom, the company’s general manger. The company is simply five years old, but Salstrom has become making records for a living since 1979.
“I can’t explain to you how surprised I am,” he says.
Listeners aren’t just demanding more records; they need to listen to more genres on vinyl. As most casual music consumers moved onto cassette tapes, compact discs, and then digital downloads during the last several decades, a little 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 anything else from the musical world is getting pressed too. The Recording Industry Association of America reported that vinyl record sales in 2015 exceeded $400 million in the Usa That figure is vinyl’s highest since 1988, and it beat out revenue from ad-supported online music streaming, for example the free version of Spotify.
While old-school audiophiles along with a new wave of record collectors are supporting vinyl’s second coming, scientists are looking at the chemistry of materials that carry and possess carried sounds with their grooves after a while. They hope that by doing this, they may boost their power to create and preserve these records.
Eric B. Monroe, a chemist in the Library of Congress, is studying the composition of one of those materials, wax cylinders, to learn the way they age and degrade. To help with the, he is examining a story of litigation and skulduggery.
Although wax cylinders might appear to be a primitive storage medium, these were a revelation at the time. Edison invented the phonograph in 1877 using cylinders wrapped in tinfoil, but he shelved the project to function on the lightbulb, in accordance with sources in 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. Dealing with chemist Jonas Aylsworth, Edison soon designed a superior brown wax for recording cylinders.
“From an industrial viewpoint, the fabric is beautiful,” Monroe says. He started focusing 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 the material.
“It’s rather minimalist. It’s just good enough for which it needs to be,” he says. “It’s not overengineered.” There was one looming trouble with the gorgeous brown wax, though: Edison and Aylsworth never patented it.
Enter Thomas H. MacDonald of American Graphophone Co., who basically paid people off to help him copy Edison’s recipe, Monroe says. MacDonald then declared a patent on 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. Although the black wax might be cast into grooved molds, enabling mass creation of records.
Unfortunately for Edison and Aylsworth, the black wax was actually a direct chemical descendant in 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 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 from the suit and Aylsworth’s notebooks thanks to the Thomas A. Edison Papers Project at Rutgers University, that is attempting to make a lot more than 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 a much better understanding of the decisions behind the materials’ chemical design. As an illustration, within an early experiment, Aylsworth made a soap using sodium hydroxide and industrial stearic acid. At the time, industrial-grade stearic acid was a roughly 1:1 blend 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 outer lining showed signs and symptoms of crystallization and records made using it started sounding scratchy. So Aylsworth added aluminum for the mix and discovered the correct mixture of “the good, the unhealthy, along with the necessary” features of all of the ingredients, Monroe explains.
This mixture of stearic acid and palmitic is soft, but an excessive amount of it will make for the weak wax. Adding sodium stearate adds some toughness, but it’s also liable for the crystallization problem. The rigid pvc 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 from your 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 a significant waterproofing element.
Monroe has become performing chemical analyses for both collection pieces with his fantastic synthesized samples to ensure the materials are the same and this the conclusions he draws from testing his materials are legit. As an example, they can look into the organic content of the wax using techniques like mass spectrometry and identify the metals in the sample with X-ray fluorescence.
Monroe revealed the 1st comes from these analyses recently with a conference hosted from 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 along with no palmitic acid in it-he’s now making substances which can be almost just like Edison’s.
His experiments also claim that these metal soaps expand and contract considerably with changing temperatures. Institutions that preserve wax cylinders, such as universities and libraries, usually store their collections at about 10 °C. As an alternative to bringing the cylinders from cold storage instantly to room temperature, the common current practice, preservationists should enable the cylinders to warm gradually, Monroe says. This can minimize the strain about the wax and lower the probability it will fracture, he adds.
The similarity between your original brown wax and Monroe’s brown wax also demonstrates that the information degrades very slowly, which happens to be great news for individuals such as Peter Alyea, Monroe’s colleague in the Library of Congress.
Alyea wants to recover the information kept in the cylinders’ grooves without playing them. To achieve this he captures and analyzes microphotographs in the grooves, a technique pioneered by researchers at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.
Soft wax cylinders were great 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 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 a material that generally seems to resist time-when stored and handled properly-may seem like a stroke of fortune, but it’s not surprising with the material’s progenitor.
“Edison was the engineer’s engineer,” Alyea says. The changes he and Aylsworth made to their formulations always served a purpose: to create their cylinders heartier, longer playing, or higher fidelity. These considerations as well as the corresponding advances in formulations generated his second-generation moldable black wax and in the end to Blue Amberol Records, that have been cylinders made using blue celluloid plastic rather than wax.
But when 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 may be the chair of the Cylinder Subcommittee for ARSC along with encouraged the Library of Congress to start out the metal soaps project Monroe is taking care of.
In 1895, Berliner introduced discs according to shellac, a resin secreted by female lac bugs, that might turn into a record industry staple for several years. 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 employing this brittle and comparatively cheap material.
“Shellac records dominated the business from 1912 to 1952,” Klinger says. Most 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 assist a groove and withstand a record needle.
Edison and Aylsworth also stepped within the chemistry of disc records using a material generally known as Condensite in 1912. “I feel that is probably 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 was acknowledged 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 prevent water vapor from forming throughout the high-temperature molding process, which deformed a disc’s surface, Klinger explains.
Edison was literally using a ton of Condensite per day 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 in the music industry were numbered. Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) records provide 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 for why vinyl arrived at dominate records. “It’s cheap, and it’s easily molded,” he says. Although he can’t talk with the particular composition of today’s vinyl, he does share some general insights in the plastic.
PVC is mainly amorphous, but by a happy accident from the free-radical-mediated reactions that build polymer chains from smaller subunits, the material is 10 to 20% crystalline, Mathias says. Because of this, PVC has enough structural fortitude to assist a groove and resist a record needle without compromising smoothness.
Without the additives, PVC is clear-ish, Mathias says, so record vinyl needs something such as carbon black to give it its famous black finish.
Finally, if Mathias was selecting a polymer to use for records and money was no object, he’d opt for polyimides. These materials have better thermal stability than vinyl, which is recognized to warp when left in cars on sunny days. Polyimides could also reproduce grooves better and provide a far more frictionless surface, Mathias adds.
But chemists will still be tweaking and improving vinyl’s formulation, says Salstrom of Quality Record Pressings. He’s working together with his vinyl supplier to find a PVC composition that’s optimized for thicker, heavier records with deeper grooves to offer listeners a sturdier, top quality product. Although Salstrom could be surprised by the resurgence in vinyl, he’s not seeking to give anyone any 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 dirt and grime?
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 learn about the chemistry that helps the transparent pvc compound get into-and out of-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 for connecting it into a hydrophilic chain of repeating ethylene oxide units.
Finally, the 7 can be a way of measuring the number of moles of ethylene oxide have been 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 combined with water.
The final result is actually a mild, fast-rinsing surfactant that may get out and in of grooves quickly, Cameron explains. The not so good news for vinyl audiophiles who might want to do this at home is that Dow typically doesn’t sell surfactants right to consumers. Their customers are usually companies who make cleaning products.