At Quality Record Pressings in Salina, Kan., the influx of orders for vinyl records has been so great the staff continues to be turning away requests since September. This resurgence in pvc pellet popularity blindsided Gary Salstrom, the company’s general manger. The organization is merely 5 years old, but Salstrom continues to be making records to get a living since 1979.
“I can’t explain to 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. Because so many casual music consumers moved onto cassette tapes, compact discs, and then digital downloads in the last several decades, a compact contingent of listeners enthusiastic about audio quality supported a modest niche for certain musical styles on vinyl, notably classic jazz and orchestral recordings.
Now, seemingly everything else from the musical world gets pressed as well. The Recording Industry Association of America reported that vinyl record sales in 2015 exceeded $400 million within the United states That figure is vinyl’s highest since 1988, and it also beat out revenue from ad-supported online music streaming, like the free version of Spotify.
While old-school audiophiles plus a new wave of record collectors are supporting vinyl’s second coming, scientists are considering the chemistry of materials that carry and get carried sounds inside their grooves over time. They hope that in doing so, they may enhance their power to create and preserve these records.
Eric B. Monroe, a chemist on the Library of Congress, is studying the composition of some of those materials, wax cylinders, to find out how they age and degrade. To help you using that, he or she is examining a story of litigation and skulduggery.
Although wax cylinders may seem like a primitive storage medium, these people were a revelation at that time. Edison invented the phonograph in 1877 using cylinders wrapped in tinfoil, but he shelved the project to work around the lightbulb, in accordance with 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. Dealing with chemist Jonas Aylsworth, Edison soon designed a superior brown wax for recording cylinders.
“From an industrial viewpoint, the information is beautiful,” Monroe says. He started concentrating 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 adequate for what it needs to be,” he says. “It’s not overengineered.” There seemed to be one looming issue 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 and away to help him copy Edison’s recipe, Monroe says. MacDonald then declared a patent about 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 must be individually grooved with a cutting stylus. But 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 of the brown wax that legally belonged to American Graphophone, so American Graphophone sued Edison’s National Phonograph Co. Fortunately for the defendants, Aylsworth’s lab notebooks showed that Team Edison had, the truth is, developed the brown wax first. The firms eventually settled out from court.
Monroe has been capable of study legal depositions from your suit and Aylsworth’s notebooks due to the Thomas A. Edison Papers Project at Rutgers University, that is trying to make over 5 million pages of documents associated with Edison publicly accessible.
With such documents, Monroe is tracking how Aylsworth along with his colleagues developed waxes and gaining a better knowledge of the decisions behind the materials’ chemical design. For example, in an early experiment, Aylsworth produced a soap using sodium hydroxide and industrial stearic acid. Back then, industrial-grade stearic acid was actually 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 the notebook. But after several days, the outer lining showed signs of crystallization and records made with it started sounding scratchy. So Aylsworth added aluminum for the mix and found the right mix of “the good, the unhealthy, along with the necessary” features of all ingredients, Monroe explains.
The mix of stearic acid and palmitic is soft, but an excessive amount of this makes to get a weak wax. Adding sodium stearate adds some toughness, but it’s also liable for the crystallization problem. The soft pvc granule prevents the sodium stearate from crystallizing as well as adding a little extra toughness.
In fact, this wax was a tad too tough for Aylsworth’s liking. To soften the wax, he added another fatty acid, oleic acid. But most of these cylinders started sweating when summertime rolled around-they exuded moisture trapped from your humid air-and were recalled. Aylsworth then swapped out of the 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 for both collection pieces with his fantastic synthesized samples so that the materials are exactly the same and this the conclusions he draws from testing his materials are legit. As an example, they can look at the organic content of your wax using techniques like mass spectrometry and identify the metals in the sample with X-ray fluorescence.
Monroe revealed the 1st results from these analyses recently at the 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 are almost identical to Edison’s.
His experiments also suggest that these metal soaps expand and contract a great deal 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 right to room temperature, the common current practice, preservationists should allow the cylinders to warm gradually, Monroe says. This will minimize the stress in the wax minimizing the probability that this will fracture, he adds.
The similarity in between the original brown wax and Monroe’s brown wax also implies that the content degrades very slowly, that is great news for individuals like Peter Alyea, Monroe’s colleague with the Library of Congress.
Alyea wants to recover the details stored in the cylinders’ grooves without playing them. To accomplish this he captures and analyzes microphotographs from 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 the 1960s. Anthropologists also brought the wax in 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 a material that appears to stand up to 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 adjustments he and Aylsworth intended to their formulations always served a purpose: to produce their cylinders heartier, longer playing, or higher fidelity. These considerations along with the corresponding advances in formulations triggered his second-generation moldable black wax and finally to Blue Amberol Records, that have been cylinders made with blue celluloid plastic rather than wax.
But when these cylinders were so excellent, why did the record industry move to flat platters? It’s easier 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 may be the chair in the Cylinder Subcommittee for ARSC along with encouraged the Library of Congress to begin 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 might be a record industry staple for years. Berliner’s discs used an assortment of shellac, clay and cotton fibers, and a few carbon black for color, Klinger says. Record makers manufactured numerous discs employing this brittle and comparatively cheap material.
“Shellac records dominated the marketplace from 1912 to 1952,” Klinger says. Most of these discs are generally known as 78s due to their playback speed of 78 revolutions-per-minute, give or require a few rpm.
PVC has enough structural fortitude to assist a groove and resist a record needle.
Edison and Aylsworth also stepped the chemistry of disc records with a material generally known as Condensite in 1912. “I believe 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 which was much like Bakelite, that was defined 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 in the high-temperature molding process, which deformed a disc’s surface, Klinger explains.
Edison was literally using a ton of Condensite every day in 1914, nevertheless the material never supplanted shellac, largely because Edison’s superior product was included with a substantially higher price, Klinger says. Edison stopped producing records in 1929.
But when Columbia Records released vinyl long-playing records, or LPs, in 1948, shellac’s days within the music industry were numbered. Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) records offer a quieter surface, store more music, and so are much less brittle than shellac discs, Klinger says.
Lon J. Mathias, a polymer chemist and professor emeritus at the University of Southern Mississippi, offers one other reason for why vinyl got to dominate records. “It’s cheap, and it’s easily molded,” he says. Although he can’t talk to the actual composition of today’s vinyl, he does share some general insights to 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 content is 10 to 20% crystalline, Mathias says. For that reason, PVC has enough structural fortitude to aid a groove and endure a record needle without compromising smoothness.
Without having additives, PVC is apparent-ish, Mathias says, so record vinyl needs something like carbon black to give it its famous black finish.
Finally, if Mathias was picking a polymer for records and money was no object, he’d opt for polyimides. These materials have better thermal stability than vinyl, that has been seen to warp when left in cars on sunny days. Polyimides can also reproduce grooves better and present a far more frictionless surface, Mathias adds.
But chemists remain 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, higher quality product. Although Salstrom could be astonished at the resurgence in vinyl, he’s not seeking to give anyone any top reasons to stop listening.
A soft brush can usually handle any dust that settles on the vinyl record. But 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 clear pvc granule get into-and from-the groove.
Molecules in Tergitol 15-S-7 possess hydrophobic hydrocarbon chains that happen to 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 for connecting it to your hydrophilic chain of repeating ethylene oxide units.
Finally, the 7 is a way of measuring just how many moles of ethylene oxide have been in the surfactant. The higher the number, the greater number of 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 together with water.
The result can be a mild, fast-rinsing surfactant that will get inside and out of grooves quickly, Cameron explains. The bad news for vinyl audiophiles who might want to use this in the home is the fact Dow typically doesn’t sell surfactants directly to consumers. Their clientele are typically companies who make cleaning products.