At Quality Record Pressings in Salina, Kan., the influx of orders for vinyl records has become 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 corporation is just five-years old, but Salstrom has been making records for the living since 1979.
“I can’t explain to you how surprised I am just,” he says.
Listeners aren’t just demanding more records; they wish to hear more genres on vinyl. As many casual music consumers moved onto cassette tapes, compact discs, and after that digital downloads over the past several decades, a small 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 everything else within the musical world gets pressed also. The Recording Industry Association of America reported that vinyl record sales in 2015 exceeded $400 million in the United states That figure is vinyl’s highest since 1988, and it also beat out revenue from ad-supported online music streaming, for example 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 also have carried sounds with their grooves with time. They hope that in doing so, they are going to increase their capability to create and preserve these records.
Eric B. Monroe, a chemist in the Library of Congress, is studying the composition of among those materials, wax cylinders, to discover how they age and degrade. To help with that, he or she is examining a narrative 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 work in the lightbulb, according to sources in the Library of Congress.
But Edison was lured back into the audio game after Alexander Graham Bell along with his Volta Laboratory had created wax cylinders. Utilizing 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 taking care of this history project in September but, before that, was working at the specialty chemical firm Milliken & Co., giving him an exclusive industrial viewpoint in the material.
“It’s rather minimalist. It’s just sufficient for what it must be,” he says. “It’s not overengineered.” There was clearly one looming trouble 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 declared a patent around the brown wax in 1898. Nevertheless the lawsuit didn’t come until after Edison and Aylsworth introduced a fresh and improved black wax.
To record sound into brown wax cylinders, each one needed to be individually grooved by using a cutting stylus. However the black wax may be cast into grooved molds, enabling mass manufacture of records.
Unfortunately for Edison and Aylsworth, the black wax was a direct chemical descendant of your 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 demonstrated that Team Edison had, in reality, developed the brown wax first. The firms eventually settled from court.
Monroe is capable to study legal depositions from the suit and Aylsworth’s notebooks thanks to the Thomas A. Edison Papers Project at Rutgers University, which can be endeavoring to make greater than 5 million pages of documents relevant to Edison publicly accessible.
Utilizing these documents, Monroe is tracking how Aylsworth with his fantastic colleagues developed waxes and gaining a better idea of the decisions behind the materials’ chemical design. As an example, in an early experiment, Aylsworth produced 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 few days, the surface showed warning signs of crystallization and records created using it started sounding scratchy. So Aylsworth added aluminum to the mix and discovered the correct blend of “the good, the not so good, as well as the necessary” features of the ingredients, Monroe explains.
The mix of stearic acid and palmitic is soft, but an excessive amount of it makes for any 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 whilst adding some extra toughness.
In reality, 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 in the humid air-and were recalled. Aylsworth then swapped out your oleic acid to get a simple hydrocarbon wax, ceresin. Like oleic acid, it softened the wax. Unlike oleic acid, it added a vital waterproofing element.
Monroe is performing chemical analyses for both collection pieces with his fantastic synthesized samples to be sure the materials are the same and this the conclusions he draws from testing his materials are legit. As an example, he 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 first comes from these analyses last month in a conference hosted with the Association for Recorded Sound Collections, or ARSC. Although his initial two tries to make brown wax were too crystalline-his stearic acid was too pure along with no palmitic acid within it-he’s now making substances which can be almost just like Edison’s.
His experiments also propose that these metal soaps expand and contract quite a bit 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 directly to room temperature, the common current practice, preservationists should enable the cylinders to warm gradually, Monroe says. This will likely minimize the worries about the wax minimizing the probability it will fracture, he adds.
The similarity between the original brown wax and Monroe’s brown wax also implies that the information degrades very slowly, which is great news for anyone such as Peter Alyea, Monroe’s colleague in the Library of Congress.
Alyea desires to recover the details kept in the cylinders’ grooves without playing them. To achieve this he captures and analyzes microphotographs in the grooves, a strategy 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 into 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 inside our collection,” Alyea says. “They’re basically invaluable.” Having those recordings captured within a material that generally seems to resist 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 alterations he and Aylsworth intended to their formulations always served a purpose: to produce 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 instead of wax.
However if these cylinders were so great, 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 will be the chair from 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 based on shellac, a resin secreted by female lac bugs, that could become a record industry staple for decades. Berliner’s discs used a blend of shellac, clay and cotton fibers, and several carbon black for color, Klinger says. Record makers manufactured an incredible number of discs by using this brittle and comparatively cheap material.
“Shellac records dominated the business from 1912 to 1952,” Klinger says. Several of these discs are known as 78s for 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 the chemistry of disc records using a material referred to as Condensite in 1912. “I believe that is quite possibly the most impressive chemistry from 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 similar to Bakelite, which 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 to stop water vapor from forming in the high-temperature molding process, which deformed a disc’s surface, Klinger explains.
Edison was literally using a lot of Condensite daily in 1914, although the material never supplanted shellac, largely because Edison’s superior product came with a substantially higher asking 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 in the music industry were numbered. Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) records give a quieter surface, store more music, and they are less brittle than shellac discs, Klinger says.
Lon J. Mathias, a polymer chemist and professor emeritus at the University of Southern Mississippi, offers one more reason why vinyl stumbled on 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 in to the plastic.
PVC is mainly amorphous, but by a happy accident of the free-radical-mediated reactions that build polymer chains from smaller subunits, the content is 10 to 20% crystalline, Mathias says. Because of this, PVC has enough structural fortitude to aid a groove and stand up to a record needle without compromising smoothness.
Without having additives, PVC is clear-ish, Mathias says, so record vinyl needs such as carbon black to give it its famous black finish.
Finally, if Mathias was deciding on a polymer for records and money was no object, he’d go with polyimides. These materials have better thermal stability than vinyl, which was proven to warp when left in cars on sunny days. Polyimides can also reproduce grooves better and provide a much more frictionless surface, Mathias adds.
But chemists continue to be tweaking and improving vinyl’s formulation, says Salstrom of Quality Record Pressings. He’s working with his vinyl supplier to find a PVC composition that’s optimized for thicker, heavier records with deeper grooves to provide listeners a sturdier, better quality product. Although Salstrom may be amazed at the resurgence in vinyl, he’s not seeking to give anyone any top reasons to stop listening.
A soft brush typically handle any dust that settles with a vinyl record. But just how can listeners take care of more tenacious grime and dirt?
The Library of Congress shares a recipe for a 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 assists the transparent pvc compound 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 actually a way of measuring just how many moles of ethylene oxide are in the surfactant. The greater the number, the greater number of 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 together with water.
The outcome can be a mild, fast-rinsing surfactant that can get out and in of grooves quickly, Cameron explains. The not so good news for vinyl audiophiles who might want to try this in your house is the fact Dow typically doesn’t sell surfactants instantly to consumers. Their potential customers are usually companies who make cleaning products.