At Quality Record Pressings in Salina, Kan., the influx of orders for vinyl records is so great the staff continues to be 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 any living since 1979.
“I can’t let you know how surprised I am just,” he says.
Listeners aren’t just demanding more records; they wish to hear more genres on vinyl. Because so many casual music consumers moved onto cassette tapes, compact discs, and then digital downloads in the last several decades, a tiny contingent of listeners passionate about audio quality supported a modest marketplace for certain musical styles on vinyl, notably classic jazz and orchestral recordings.
Now, seemingly the rest in the musical world gets pressed at the same time. 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 it 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 possess carried sounds with their grooves with time. They hope that by doing this, they are going to boost their ability to create and preserve these records.
Eric B. Monroe, a chemist in the Library of Congress, is studying the composition of one of those particular materials, wax cylinders, to determine the direction they age and degrade. To help using that, he is examining a narrative of litigation and skulduggery.
Although wax cylinders may seem like a primitive storage medium, these were a revelation during the time. Edison invented the phonograph in 1877 using cylinders wrapped in tinfoil, but he shelved the project to operate in the lightbulb, as outlined by 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. Working with chemist Jonas Aylsworth, Edison soon created 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 a unique industrial viewpoint in the material.
“It’s rather minimalist. It’s just good enough for what it must be,” he says. “It’s not overengineered.” There seemed to be one looming problem with the beautiful 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, every one must be individually grooved by using a cutting stylus. Nevertheless the black wax could possibly be cast into grooved molds, allowing for mass production of records.
Unfortunately for Edison and Aylsworth, the black wax was actually a direct chemical descendant of 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 showed that Team Edison had, the truth is, developed the brown wax first. Companies eventually settled out from court.
Monroe is in a position to study legal depositions from your suit and Aylsworth’s notebooks because of the Thomas A. Edison Papers Project at Rutgers University, that is endeavoring to make a lot more than 5 million pages of documents associated with Edison publicly accessible.
With such documents, Monroe is tracking how Aylsworth and his awesome colleagues developed waxes and gaining a much better idea of the decisions behind the materials’ chemical design. As an illustration, within an early experiment, Aylsworth crafted a soap using sodium hydroxide and industrial stearic acid. During the time, industrial-grade stearic acid was really 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 several days, the outer lining showed signs of crystallization and records made using it started sounding scratchy. So Aylsworth added aluminum for the mix and found the correct mix of “the good, the bad, and also the necessary” features of all ingredients, Monroe explains.
The mix of stearic acid and palmitic is soft, but a lot of this makes for any weak wax. Adding sodium stearate adds some toughness, but it’s also accountable for the crystallization problem. The soft pvc granule prevents the sodium stearate from crystallizing whilst adding some additional 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 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 out your oleic acid for a simple hydrocarbon wax, ceresin. Like oleic acid, it softened the wax. Unlike oleic acid, it added a vital waterproofing element.
Monroe continues to be performing chemical analyses for both collection pieces along with his synthesized samples to be sure the materials are similar and this the conclusions he draws from testing his materials are legit. For example, he can look at the organic content of the wax using techniques including mass spectrometry and identify the metals in the sample with X-ray fluorescence.
Monroe revealed the first is a result of these analyses recently with a conference hosted with 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 inside it-he’s now making substances that happen to 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, like 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 permit the cylinders to warm gradually, Monroe says. This may minimize the stress on the wax and lower the probability which it will fracture, he adds.
The similarity involving the original brown wax and Monroe’s brown wax also demonstrates that the material degrades very slowly, which can be great news for folks including Peter Alyea, Monroe’s colleague in the Library of Congress.
Alyea would like to recover the data held in the cylinders’ grooves without playing them. To do this he captures and analyzes microphotographs of the grooves, a technique 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 to the field to record and preserve the voices and stories of vanishing native tribes.
“There are ten thousand cylinders with recordings of Native Americans within our collection,” Alyea says. “They’re basically invaluable.” Having those recordings captured in a material that appears to resist time-when stored and handled properly-might appear to be a stroke of fortune, but it’s less than surprising with the material’s progenitor.
“Edison was the engineer’s engineer,” Alyea says. The modifications 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 finally to Blue Amberol Records, that were cylinders made with blue celluloid plastic as an alternative to wax.
However, if these cylinders were so excellent, why did the record industry change to flat platters? It’s quicker 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 may be 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 according to 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, plus some carbon black for color, Klinger says. Record makers manufactured countless discs applying 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 because of their playback speed of 78 revolutions-per-minute, give or require a few rpm.
PVC has enough structural fortitude to aid a groove and withstand a record needle.
Edison and Aylsworth also stepped within the chemistry of disc records using a material known as Condensite in 1912. “I believe 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 much like Bakelite, which had been acknowledged 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 in order 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 bunch of Condensite each day in 1914, but the material never supplanted shellac, largely because Edison’s superior product was included with a substantially higher price tag, Klinger says. Edison stopped producing records in 1929.
However when Columbia Records released vinyl long-playing records, or LPs, in 1948, shellac’s days from the music industry were numbered. Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) records offer a quieter surface, store more music, and they are a lot less brittle than shellac discs, Klinger says.
Lon J. Mathias, a polymer chemist and professor emeritus in the University of Southern Mississippi, offers one other reason why vinyl arrived at dominate records. “It’s cheap, and it’s easily molded,” he says. Although he can’t speak to the precise composition of today’s vinyl, he does share some general insights into the plastic.
PVC is generally amorphous, but by way of a happy accident of your free-radical-mediated reactions that build polymer chains from smaller subunits, the information is 10 to 20% crystalline, Mathias says. For that reason, PVC has enough structural fortitude to support a groove and endure a record needle without compromising smoothness.
Without the additives, PVC is clear-ish, Mathias says, so record vinyl needs such as carbon black allow it its famous black finish.
Finally, if Mathias was deciding on a polymer for records and money was no object, he’d opt for polyimides. These materials have better thermal stability than vinyl, which is known to warp when left in cars on sunny days. Polyimides may 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 working together with his vinyl supplier to identify a PVC composition that’s optimized for thicker, heavier records with deeper grooves to offer listeners a sturdier, better quality product. Although Salstrom can be surprised at the resurgence in vinyl, he’s not seeking to give anyone any good reasons to stop listening.
A soft brush can usually handle any dust that settles on a vinyl record. So how can listeners take care of more tenacious grime and dirt?
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 can help the transparent pvc compound end up in-and away 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 of your hydrocarbon chain for connecting it to some hydrophilic chain of repeating ethylene oxide units.
Finally, the 7 is actually a way of measuring just 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 in the water-soluble category, Cameron says. Furthermore, she adds, the surfactant doesn’t become viscous or gel-like when blended with water.
The result can be a mild, fast-rinsing surfactant that may get in and out of grooves quickly, Cameron explains. The negative news for vinyl audiophiles who may want to try this at home is Dow typically doesn’t sell surfactants directly to consumers. Their clients are often companies who make cleaning products.