At Quality Record Pressings in Salina, Kan., the influx of orders for vinyl records continues to be so excellent that the staff has become turning away requests since September. This resurgence in pvc compound popularity blindsided Gary Salstrom, the company’s general manger. The corporation is definitely 5yrs old, but Salstrom is making records to get a 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. As most casual music consumers moved onto cassette tapes, compact discs, and after that digital downloads during the last several decades, a tiny contingent of listeners obsessive about audio quality supported a modest marketplace for certain musical styles on vinyl, notably classic jazz and orchestral recordings.
Now, seemingly the rest within the musical world is becoming pressed also. The Recording Industry Association of America reported that vinyl record sales in 2015 exceeded $400 million inside the Usa That figure is vinyl’s highest since 1988, and yes it beat out revenue from ad-supported online music streaming, for example the free version of Spotify.
While old-school audiophiles as well as 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 with their grooves as time passes. They hope that by doing this, they may improve their capacity to create and preserve these records.
Eric B. Monroe, a chemist with the Library of Congress, is studying the composition of one of those materials, wax cylinders, to discover the way they age and degrade. To help with this, he or she is examining a tale of litigation and skulduggery.
Although wax cylinders might appear to be a primitive storage medium, they were a revelation during the time. Edison invented the phonograph in 1877 using cylinders wrapped in tinfoil, but he shelved the project to be effective about the lightbulb, according to sources at 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 together with chemist Jonas Aylsworth, Edison soon designed a superior brown wax for recording cylinders.
“From a commercial viewpoint, the content is beautiful,” Monroe says. He started concentrating on this history project in September but, before that, was working on the specialty chemical firm Milliken & Co., giving him an exclusive industrial viewpoint from the material.
“It’s rather minimalist. It’s just adequate for what it needs to be,” he says. “It’s not overengineered.” There is one looming issue 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 in the brown wax in 1898. Although 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, each one of these needed to be individually grooved having a cutting stylus. Nevertheless the black wax may be cast into grooved molds, making it possible for mass manufacture of records.
Unfortunately for Edison and Aylsworth, the black wax had been 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 indicated that Team Edison had, in reality, developed the brown wax first. Companies eventually settled away from court.
Monroe has been capable of study legal depositions from the suit and Aylsworth’s notebooks on account of the Thomas A. Edison Papers Project at Rutgers University, that is trying to make more than 5 million pages of documents linked to Edison publicly accessible.
Using these documents, Monroe is tracking how Aylsworth along with his colleagues developed waxes and gaining a much better knowledge of the decisions behind the materials’ chemical design. For example, inside an early experiment, Aylsworth made a soap using sodium hydroxide and industrial stearic acid. During the time, industrial-grade stearic acid had been 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 their notebook. But after a couple of days, the surface showed indications of crystallization and records made with it started sounding scratchy. So Aylsworth added aluminum on the mix and found the proper blend of “the good, the negative, along with the necessary” features of all the ingredients, Monroe explains.
This mixture of stearic acid and palmitic is soft, but an excessive amount of it can make to get a weak wax. Adding sodium stearate adds some toughness, but it’s also in charge of the crystallization problem. The rigid pvc compound prevents the sodium stearate from crystallizing while also adding some additional toughness.
In fact, this wax was a little 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 for the simple hydrocarbon wax, ceresin. Like oleic acid, it softened the wax. Unlike oleic acid, it added an essential waterproofing element.
Monroe is performing chemical analyses on both collection pieces with his fantastic synthesized samples to guarantee the materials are exactly the same and this the conclusions he draws from testing his materials are legit. As an example, he can check the organic content of any wax using techniques for example mass spectrometry and identify the metals inside a sample with X-ray fluorescence.
Monroe revealed the initial is a result of these analyses last month in a conference hosted through the Association for Recorded Sound Collections, or ARSC. Although his first couple of efforts to make brown wax were too crystalline-his stearic acid was too pure and had no palmitic acid within it-he’s now making substances which are almost identical to Edison’s.
His experiments also claim that these metal soaps expand and contract considerably 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 directly to room temperature, which is the common current practice, preservationists should let the cylinders to warm gradually, Monroe says. This can minimize the stress around the wax and lower the probability which it will fracture, he adds.
The similarity between the original brown wax and Monroe’s brown wax also suggests that the fabric degrades very slowly, that is great news for people such as Peter Alyea, Monroe’s colleague in the Library of Congress.
Alyea desires to recover the data held in the cylinders’ grooves without playing them. To accomplish this he captures and analyzes microphotographs of the grooves, a method 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 in 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 in our collection,” Alyea says. “They’re basically invaluable.” Having those recordings captured in a material that seems to withstand time-when stored and handled properly-might appear to be 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 created 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 with blue celluloid plastic as opposed to wax.
But if these cylinders were so great, why did the record industry move to flat platters? It’s simpler to store more flat records in less space, Alyea explains.
Emile Berliner, inventor in the gramophone, introduced disc-shaped gramophone records pressed in celluloid and hard rubber around 1890, says Bill Klinger. Klinger will be the chair of your Cylinder Subcommittee for ARSC and had encouraged the Library of Congress to start the metal soaps project Monroe is working on.
In 1895, Berliner introduced discs depending on shellac, a resin secreted by female lac bugs, that might become a record industry staple for years. Berliner’s discs used a mixture of shellac, clay and cotton fibers, and some carbon black for color, Klinger says. Record makers manufactured an incredible number of discs applying this brittle and comparatively cheap material.
“Shellac records dominated the market from 1912 to 1952,” Klinger says. A number of these discs have become referred to as 78s for their playback speed of 78 revolutions-per-minute, give or take a few rpm.
PVC has enough structural fortitude to assist a groove and resist an archive needle.
Edison and Aylsworth also stepped the chemistry of disc records by using a material called Condensite in 1912. “I assume 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 that was just like Bakelite, which was recognized 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 avoid 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, but 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 inside the music industry were numbered. Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) records provide a quieter surface, store more music, and therefore are far less brittle than shellac discs, Klinger says.
Lon J. Mathias, a polymer chemist and professor emeritus in 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 talk to the particular composition of today’s vinyl, he does share some general insights in to the plastic.
PVC is mainly amorphous, but from a happy accident of 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 aid a groove and withstand an archive needle without compromising smoothness.
With no additives, PVC is apparent-ish, Mathias says, so record vinyl needs such as carbon black allow it its famous black finish.
Finally, if Mathias was choosing 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 has been known to warp when left in cars on sunny days. Polyimides also can reproduce grooves better and present a much 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 with his vinyl supplier to identify a PVC composition that’s optimized for thicker, heavier records with deeper grooves to provide listeners a sturdier, high quality product. Although Salstrom might be surprised at the resurgence in vinyl, he’s not seeking to give anyone any excellent reasons to stop listening.
A soft brush can usually handle any dust that settles on a vinyl record. But just how can listeners cope with 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 which helps the pvc compound get into-and from-the groove.
Molecules in Tergitol 15-S-7 possess hydrophobic hydrocarbon chains which can be 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 to connect it into a hydrophilic chain of repeating ethylene oxide units.
Finally, the 7 is a measure of the number of 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 together with water.
The end result can be a mild, fast-rinsing surfactant that may get inside and out of grooves quickly, Cameron explains. The bad news for vinyl audiophiles who might want to try this in your house is Dow typically doesn’t sell surfactants straight to consumers. Their customers are typically companies who make cleaning products.