At Quality Record Pressings in Salina, Kan., the influx of orders for vinyl records has become so excellent that this staff has been turning away requests since September. This resurgence in pvc pellet popularity blindsided Gary Salstrom, the company’s general manger. The company is merely five-years old, but Salstrom has become making records for any living since 1979.
“I can’t let you know how surprised I am,” he says.
Listeners aren’t just demanding more records; they wish to tune in to more genres on vinyl. As most casual music consumers moved onto cassette tapes, compact discs, and then digital downloads within the last several decades, a little contingent of listeners obsessive about audio quality supported a modest industry for certain musical styles on vinyl, notably classic jazz and orchestral recordings.
Now, seemingly everything else from the musical world is getting pressed also. The Recording Industry Association of America reported that vinyl record sales in 2015 exceeded $400 million from the United states 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 inside their grooves after a while. They hope that in doing so, they will boost 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 particular materials, wax cylinders, to find out the way they age and degrade. To help you using that, he or she is examining a story of litigation and skulduggery.
Although wax cylinders might appear to be a primitive storage medium, they were a revelation back then. Edison invented the phonograph in 1877 using cylinders wrapped in tinfoil, but he shelved the project to function in the lightbulb, according to sources on the Library of Congress.
But Edison was lured into the audio game after Alexander Graham Bell with his fantastic Volta Laboratory had created wax cylinders. Dealing with chemist Jonas Aylsworth, Edison soon created a superior brown wax for recording cylinders.
“From a commercial viewpoint, the fabric is beautiful,” Monroe says. He started focusing on this history project in September but, before that, was working at the specialty chemical firm Milliken & Co., giving him an original industrial viewpoint of your material.
“It’s rather minimalist. It’s just suitable for what it needs to be,” he says. “It’s not overengineered.” There seemed to be one looming downside to the beautiful 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 around the brown wax in 1898. But 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, every one needed to be individually grooved having a cutting stylus. However the black wax might be cast into grooved molds, permitting mass production of records.
Unfortunately for Edison and Aylsworth, the black wax was really a direct chemical descendant in 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 revealed that Team Edison had, actually, developed the brown wax first. The companies eventually settled out of court.
Monroe continues to be capable of study legal depositions through the suit and Aylsworth’s notebooks because of the Thomas A. Edison Papers Project at Rutgers University, that is attempting to make a lot more than 5 million pages of documents associated with Edison publicly accessible.
Utilizing these documents, Monroe is tracking how Aylsworth and his colleagues developed waxes and gaining a better comprehension of the decisions behind the materials’ chemical design. As an example, in an early experiment, Aylsworth crafted a soap using sodium hydroxide and industrial stearic acid. At that time, industrial-grade stearic acid was actually a roughly 1:1 mixture 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 number of days, the surface showed indications of crystallization and records created using it started sounding scratchy. So Aylsworth added aluminum to the mix and located the best mix of “the good, the not so good, as well as the necessary” features of all the ingredients, Monroe explains.
This mixture of stearic acid and palmitic is soft, but too much of it will make for a weak wax. Adding sodium stearate adds some toughness, but it’s also accountable for the crystallization problem. The rigid pvc compound prevents the sodium stearate from crystallizing while also adding a little extra toughness.
The truth is, this wax was a touch 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 from the humid air-and were recalled. Aylsworth then swapped the oleic acid for any simple hydrocarbon wax, ceresin. Like oleic acid, it softened the wax. Unlike oleic acid, it added an important waterproofing element.
Monroe continues to be performing chemical analyses on collection pieces along with his synthesized samples to guarantee the materials are exactly the same which the conclusions he draws from testing his materials are legit. For instance, he can look at the organic content of any wax using techniques such as mass spectrometry and identify the metals within a sample with X-ray fluorescence.
Monroe revealed the first results from these analyses last month in 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 along with no palmitic acid in it-he’s now making substances that happen to be almost identical to Edison’s.
His experiments also advise that these metal soaps expand and contract a lot with changing temperatures. Institutions that preserve wax cylinders, for example universities and libraries, usually store their collections at about 10 °C. As opposed to bringing the cylinders from cold storage instantly to room temperature, which is the common current practice, preservationists should allow the cylinders to warm gradually, Monroe says. This will likely minimize the strain on the wax and lower the probability that this 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 folks including Peter Alyea, Monroe’s colleague at the Library of Congress.
Alyea wants to recover the data kept in the cylinders’ grooves without playing them. To do so he captures and analyzes microphotographs of the grooves, a method pioneered by researchers at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.
Soft wax cylinders were just the thing 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 within a material that generally seems to endure time-when stored and handled properly-may seem like a stroke of fortune, but it’s not too surprising considering the material’s progenitor.
“Edison was the engineer’s engineer,” Alyea says. The modifications he and Aylsworth designed to their formulations always served a purpose: to make their cylinders heartier, longer playing, or higher fidelity. These considerations along with the corresponding advances in formulations resulted in his second-generation moldable black wax and in the end to Blue Amberol Records, that had been cylinders made out of blue celluloid plastic rather than wax.
However, if these cylinders were so great, 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 the chair in the Cylinder Subcommittee for ARSC along with encouraged the Library of Congress to start the metal soaps project Monroe is concentrating on.
In 1895, Berliner introduced discs according to shellac, a resin secreted by female lac bugs, that would become a record industry staple for several years. Berliner’s discs used a mixture of shellac, clay and cotton fibers, and a few carbon black for color, Klinger says. Record makers manufactured countless discs employing this brittle and comparatively cheap material.
“Shellac records dominated the marketplace from 1912 to 1952,” Klinger says. A number of these discs are now 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 support a groove and stand up to an archive needle.
Edison and Aylsworth also stepped the chemistry of disc records using a material known as Condensite in 1912. “I assume that is essentially the most impressive chemistry of your 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 much like Bakelite, which was accepted as the world’s first synthetic plastic by 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 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 came with a substantially higher 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 inside the music industry were numbered. Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) records offer a quieter surface, store more music, and so are 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 why vinyl stumbled on dominate records. “It’s cheap, and it’s easily molded,” he says. Although he can’t speak to the actual composition of today’s vinyl, he does share some general insights in the plastic.
PVC is usually amorphous, but by way of a happy accident in the free-radical-mediated reactions that build polymer chains from smaller subunits, the information is 10 to 20% crystalline, Mathias says. Consequently, PVC has enough structural fortitude to back up a groove and resist a record needle without compromising smoothness.
Without having 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 for records and money 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 give a more frictionless surface, Mathias adds.
But chemists will still be 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 astonished at the resurgence in vinyl, he’s not planning to give anyone any good reasons to stop listening.
A soft brush usually can handle any dust that settles over a vinyl record. So how can listeners deal with more tenacious grime and dirt?
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 that can help the transparent pvc compound end up in-and 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 in the hydrocarbon chain for connecting it to your hydrophilic chain of repeating ethylene oxide units.
Finally, the 7 is actually a way of measuring how many moles of ethylene oxide have been in the surfactant. The higher the number, the greater water-soluble the compound is. Seven is squarely within the water-soluble category, Cameron says. Furthermore, she adds, the surfactant doesn’t become viscous or gel-like when mixed with water.
The outcome is a mild, fast-rinsing surfactant that could get in and out of grooves quickly, Cameron explains. The unhealthy news for vinyl audiophiles who may want to use this in the home is Dow typically doesn’t sell surfactants straight to consumers. Their clients are often companies who make cleaning products.