At Quality Record Pressings in Salina, Kan., the influx of orders for vinyl records is so excellent the staff has been turning away requests since September. This resurgence in pvc compound popularity blindsided Gary Salstrom, the company’s general manger. The company is just five-years old, but Salstrom is making records for a living since 1979.
“I can’t tell you how surprised I am,” he says.
Listeners aren’t just demanding more records; they wish to tune in to more genres on vinyl. As many casual music consumers moved onto cassette tapes, compact discs, after which digital downloads within the last several decades, a compact contingent of listeners obsessed with audio quality supported a modest market for certain musical styles on vinyl, notably classic jazz and orchestral recordings.
Now, seemingly everything else inside 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 Usa That figure is vinyl’s highest since 1988, plus it beat out revenue from ad-supported online music streaming, for example 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 within their grooves as time passes. They hope that in doing so, they will likely increase 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 materials, wax cylinders, to learn how they age and degrade. To assist using that, he or she is examining a story of litigation and skulduggery.
Although wax cylinders may seem like 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 function about the lightbulb, according to sources in the Library of Congress.
But Edison was lured into the audio game after Alexander Graham Bell and his awesome Volta Laboratory had created wax cylinders. Working together with chemist Jonas Aylsworth, Edison soon created a superior brown wax for recording cylinders.
“From a commercial viewpoint, the information is beautiful,” Monroe says. He started focusing on this history project in September but, before that, was working in the specialty chemical firm Milliken & Co., giving him an exclusive industrial viewpoint in the material.
“It’s rather minimalist. It’s just good enough for the purpose it needs to be,” he says. “It’s not overengineered.” There seemed to be one looming downside to the stunning 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 filed for a patent around 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, each must be individually grooved by using a cutting stylus. However the black wax might be cast into grooved molds, enabling mass production of records.
Unfortunately for Edison and Aylsworth, the black wax was 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, in reality, developed the brown wax first. The firms eventually settled away from court.
Monroe continues to be in a position to study legal depositions from the suit and Aylsworth’s notebooks on account of the Thomas A. Edison Papers Project at Rutgers University, which is endeavoring to make over 5 million pages of documents relevant to Edison publicly accessible.
By using these documents, Monroe is tracking how Aylsworth with his fantastic colleagues developed waxes and gaining an improved comprehension of the decisions behind the materials’ chemical design. As an illustration, inside an early experiment, Aylsworth crafted a soap using sodium hydroxide and industrial stearic acid. During the time, industrial-grade stearic acid had been 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 couple of days, the surface showed indications of crystallization and records created using it started sounding scratchy. So Aylsworth added aluminum towards the mix and discovered the right blend of “the good, the bad, and also 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 upvc compound prevents the sodium stearate from crystallizing while also adding some 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 a majority of these cylinders started sweating when summertime rolled around-they exuded moisture trapped through the humid air-and were recalled. Aylsworth then swapped out of the oleic acid for the simple hydrocarbon wax, ceresin. Like oleic acid, it softened the wax. Unlike oleic acid, it added an important waterproofing element.
Monroe is performing chemical analyses on both collection pieces along with his synthesized samples to be sure the materials are similar and therefore the conclusions he draws from testing his materials are legit. For instance, he is able to check the organic content of any wax using techniques for example mass spectrometry and identify the metals within a sample with X-ray fluorescence.
Monroe revealed the initial is a result of these analyses recently in a conference hosted through the Association for Recorded Sound Collections, or ARSC. Although his first two 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 which can 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. Rather than bringing the cylinders from cold storage directly to room temperature, which is the common current practice, preservationists should enable the cylinders to warm gradually, Monroe says. This can minimize the stress in the wax minimizing the probability that this will fracture, he adds.
The similarity between your original brown wax and Monroe’s brown wax also implies that the information degrades very slowly, that is great news for anyone including Peter Alyea, Monroe’s colleague in the Library of Congress.
Alyea would like to recover the details held in the cylinders’ grooves without playing them. To achieve this he captures and analyzes microphotographs in the grooves, a method 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 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 inside our collection,” Alyea says. “They’re basically invaluable.” Having those recordings captured inside a material that generally seems to endure time-when stored and handled properly-might appear to be a stroke of fortune, but it’s not too surprising taking into consideration the material’s progenitor.
“Edison was the engineer’s engineer,” Alyea says. The changes he and Aylsworth intended to their formulations always served a purpose: to help make their cylinders heartier, longer playing, or higher fidelity. These considerations and the corresponding advances in formulations triggered his second-generation moldable black wax and in the end to Blue Amberol Records, that have been cylinders made out of blue celluloid plastic instead of wax.
However if these cylinders were so excellent, why did the record industry move to flat platters? It’s simpler 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 in the Cylinder Subcommittee for ARSC and had encouraged the Library of Congress to begin the metal soaps project Monroe is working on.
In 1895, Berliner introduced discs depending on shellac, a resin secreted by female lac bugs, that will turn into a record industry staple for many years. Berliner’s discs used an assortment of shellac, clay and cotton fibers, and some carbon black for color, Klinger says. Record makers manufactured numerous discs applying this brittle and relatively inexpensive material.
“Shellac records dominated the marketplace from 1912 to 1952,” Klinger says. Many of these discs are generally known as 78s for their playback speed of 78 revolutions-per-minute, give or have 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 by using a material known as Condensite in 1912. “I feel 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 similar to Bakelite, that was accepted as the world’s first synthetic plastic through 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 through the high-temperature molding process, which deformed a disc’s surface, Klinger explains.
Edison was literally using a lot of Condensite every day in 1914, but 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 from the music industry were numbered. Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) records give a quieter surface, store more music, and therefore are less brittle than shellac discs, Klinger says.
Lon J. Mathias, a polymer chemist and professor emeritus in the University of Southern Mississippi, offers another reason why for why vinyl came to dominate records. “It’s cheap, and it’s easily molded,” he says. Although he can’t talk to the particular composition of today’s vinyl, he does share some general insights to the plastic.
PVC is mostly amorphous, but by a happy accident from the free-radical-mediated reactions that build polymer chains from smaller subunits, the material is 10 to 20% crystalline, Mathias says. Because of this, PVC has enough structural fortitude to support a groove and stand up to an archive needle without compromising smoothness.
Without any additives, PVC is obvious-ish, Mathias says, so record vinyl needs something like carbon black allow it its famous black finish.
Finally, if Mathias was choosing a polymer for records and money was no object, he’d go with polyimides. These materials have better thermal stability than vinyl, which is known to warp when left in cars on sunny days. Polyimides also can reproduce grooves better and give a more frictionless surface, Mathias adds.
But chemists are still tweaking and improving vinyl’s formulation, says Salstrom of Quality Record Pressings. He’s working with his vinyl supplier to locate a PVC composition that’s optimized for thicker, heavier records with deeper grooves to offer listeners a sturdier, higher quality product. Although Salstrom may be surprised at the resurgence in vinyl, he’s not trying to give anyone any good reasons to stop listening.
A soft brush normally can handle any dust that settles over a vinyl record. But exactly how can listeners handle 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 discover the chemistry which helps the clear pvc granule go into-and out 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 to get in touch it to your hydrophilic chain of repeating ethylene oxide units.
Finally, the 7 is really a way of measuring the amount of moles of ethylene oxide are in the surfactant. The greater 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 mixed with water.
The result is a mild, fast-rinsing surfactant that may get in and out of grooves quickly, Cameron explains. The not so good news for vinyl audiophiles who may wish to use this in your house is that Dow typically doesn’t sell surfactants directly to consumers. Their clients are typically companies who make cleaning products.