At Quality Record Pressings in Salina, Kan., the influx of orders for vinyl records has been so great how the staff has become turning away requests since September. This resurgence in pvc granule popularity blindsided Gary Salstrom, the company’s general manger. The corporation is simply 5yrs old, but Salstrom has been making records to get a 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 tune in to more genres on vinyl. Because so many casual music consumers moved onto cassette tapes, compact discs, and then digital downloads within the last several decades, a tiny contingent of listeners passionate about audio quality supported a modest niche for certain musical styles on vinyl, notably classic jazz and orchestral recordings.
Now, seemingly anything 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 inside the U.S. That figure is vinyl’s highest since 1988, and it also beat out revenue from ad-supported online music streaming, such as the free version of Spotify.
While old-school audiophiles along with a new wave of record collectors are supporting vinyl’s second coming, scientists are looking at the chemistry of materials that carry and possess carried sounds with their grooves as time passes. They hope that by doing this, they will likely improve their capacity to create and preserve these records.
Eric B. Monroe, a chemist with the Library of Congress, is studying the composition of some of those materials, wax cylinders, to determine the way that they age and degrade. To assist with the, he is examining a story of litigation and skulduggery.
Although wax cylinders might appear to be a primitive storage medium, these were a revelation at that time. Edison invented the phonograph in 1877 using cylinders wrapped in tinfoil, but he shelved the project to operate in the lightbulb, in accordance with sources at the Library of Congress.
But Edison was lured into the audio game after Alexander Graham Bell along with his Volta Laboratory had created wax cylinders. Working together with chemist Jonas Aylsworth, Edison soon designed a superior brown wax for recording cylinders.
“From an industrial viewpoint, the material is beautiful,” Monroe says. He started working on this history project in September but, before that, was working on the specialty chemical firm Milliken & Co., giving him an exclusive industrial viewpoint of your material.
“It’s rather minimalist. It’s just good enough for which it must be,” he says. “It’s not overengineered.” There was clearly one looming problem 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 to help him copy Edison’s recipe, Monroe says. MacDonald then declared a patent on the brown wax in 1898. Nevertheless 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 would have to be individually grooved having a cutting stylus. Nevertheless the black wax might be cast into grooved molds, permitting mass manufacturing 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 indicated that Team Edison had, in reality, developed the brown wax first. The companies eventually settled from court.
Monroe is in a position to study legal depositions from your suit and Aylsworth’s notebooks due to the Thomas A. Edison Papers Project at Rutgers University, which happens to be working to make over 5 million pages of documents associated with Edison publicly accessible.
With such documents, Monroe is tracking how Aylsworth and his colleagues developed waxes and gaining a much better knowledge of the decisions behind the materials’ chemical design. For example, within 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 mix of stearic acid and palmitic acid, two essential fatty acids that differ by two carbon atoms.
That early soap was “almost perfection,” Aylsworth remarked within his notebook. But after a number of days, the surface showed signs and symptoms of crystallization and records created using it started sounding scratchy. So Aylsworth added aluminum to the mix and located the correct mix of “the good, the negative, along with the necessary” features of all the ingredients, Monroe explains.
The combination of stearic acid and palmitic is soft, but too much of it can make for a weak wax. Adding sodium stearate adds some toughness, but it’s also responsible for the crystallization problem. The rigid pvc compound prevents the sodium stearate from crystallizing as well as adding some extra toughness.
Actually, 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 of the oleic acid for any simple hydrocarbon wax, ceresin. Like oleic acid, it softened the wax. Unlike oleic acid, it added an essential waterproofing element.
Monroe continues to be performing chemical analyses for both collection pieces along with his synthesized samples to ensure the materials are the same and that the conclusions he draws from testing his materials are legit. As an example, he is able to check the organic content of a wax using techniques including mass spectrometry and identify the metals in the sample with X-ray fluorescence.
Monroe revealed the 1st is a result of these analyses recently with a conference hosted through the Association for Recorded Sound Collections, or ARSC. Although his first two 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 that happen to be almost just like Edison’s.
His experiments also advise that these metal soaps expand and contract a great deal with changing temperatures. Institutions that preserve wax cylinders, such as universities and libraries, usually store their collections at about 10 °C. As opposed to bringing the cylinders from cold storage straight to room temperature, the common current practice, preservationists should allow the cylinders to warm gradually, Monroe says. This may minimize the stress around the wax and lower the probability it will fracture, he adds.
The similarity in between the original brown wax and Monroe’s brown wax also shows that the information degrades very slowly, which is great news for folks such as Peter Alyea, Monroe’s colleague with the Library of Congress.
Alyea desires to recover the info stored in the cylinders’ grooves without playing them. To do so he captures and analyzes microphotographs in 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 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 our collection,” Alyea says. “They’re basically invaluable.” Having those recordings captured within a material that seems to withstand time-when stored and handled properly-might appear to be a stroke of fortune, but it’s not so surprising with the material’s progenitor.
“Edison was the engineer’s engineer,” Alyea says. The alterations he and Aylsworth made to their formulations always served a purpose: to help make 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, which were cylinders made out of blue celluloid plastic rather than wax.
But if 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 from the gramophone, introduced disc-shaped gramophone records pressed in celluloid and hard rubber around 1890, says Bill Klinger. Klinger is definitely the chair of the Cylinder Subcommittee for ARSC along with encouraged the Library of Congress to begin the metal soaps project Monroe is concentrating on.
In 1895, Berliner introduced discs according to shellac, a resin secreted by female lac bugs, that might become a record industry staple for many years. Berliner’s discs used an assortment of shellac, clay and cotton fibers, plus some carbon black for color, Klinger says. Record makers manufactured numerous discs by using this brittle and comparatively cheap material.
“Shellac records dominated the business from 1912 to 1952,” Klinger says. A number of these discs are known as 78s because of the playback speed of 78 revolutions-per-minute, give or take a few rpm.
PVC has enough structural fortitude to assist a groove and endure an archive needle.
Edison and Aylsworth also stepped within the chemistry of disc records using a material referred to as Condensite in 1912. “I assume that is probably the most impressive chemistry of 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 comparable to Bakelite, that 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 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 bunch of Condensite each day in 1914, but the material never supplanted shellac, largely because Edison’s superior product came 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 from the music industry were numbered. Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) records supply a quieter surface, store more music, and therefore 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 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 particular composition of today’s vinyl, he does share some general insights into the plastic.
PVC is mostly amorphous, but with a happy accident of your free-radical-mediated reactions that build polymer chains from smaller subunits, the fabric is 10 to 20% crystalline, Mathias says. Consequently, PVC has enough structural fortitude to support a groove and endure an archive needle without compromising smoothness.
Without the 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 picking a polymer for records and funds was no object, he’d opt for polyimides. These materials have better thermal stability than vinyl, which is proven to warp when left in cars on sunny days. Polyimides also can reproduce grooves better and provide a much 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 identify a PVC composition that’s optimized for thicker, heavier records with deeper grooves to offer listeners a sturdier, better quality product. Although Salstrom might be amazed at the resurgence in vinyl, he’s not seeking to give anyone any excellent reasons to stop listening.
A soft brush usually can handle any dust that settles over a vinyl record. But exactly how can listeners cope with more tenacious dirt and grime?
The Library of Congress shares a recipe to get 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 pvc compound get into-and out of-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 to connect it into a 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 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 result is actually a mild, fast-rinsing surfactant that could get in and out of grooves quickly, Cameron explains. The bad news for vinyl audiophiles who may want to use this in your house is that Dow typically doesn’t sell surfactants directly to consumers. Their potential customers are typically companies who make cleaning products.