At Quality Record Pressings in Salina, Kan., the influx of orders for vinyl records continues to be so great 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 just 5yrs old, but Salstrom has become making records for a living since 1979.
“I can’t tell you how surprised I am just,” he says.
Listeners aren’t just demanding more records; they need to pay attention to more genres on vinyl. Because so many casual music consumers moved onto cassette tapes, compact discs, after which digital downloads over the past several decades, a tiny contingent of listeners obsessed with audio quality supported a modest industry for certain musical styles on vinyl, notably classic jazz and orchestral recordings.
Now, seemingly everything from the musical world is getting pressed at the same time. The Recording Industry Association of America reported that vinyl record sales in 2015 exceeded $400 million within the Usa That figure is vinyl’s highest since 1988, and yes it beat out revenue from ad-supported online music streaming, for example the free version of Spotify.
While old-school audiophiles as well as a new wave of record collectors are supporting vinyl’s second coming, scientists are considering the chemistry of materials that carry and have carried sounds with their grooves with time. They hope that by doing this, they will boost their capability to create and preserve these records.
Eric B. Monroe, a chemist in the Library of Congress, is studying the composition of some of those materials, wax cylinders, to find out the way they age and degrade. To help you with the, he is examining a story of litigation and skulduggery.
Although wax cylinders might appear to be a primitive storage medium, they were a revelation during the time. Edison invented the phonograph in 1877 using cylinders wrapped in tinfoil, but he shelved the project to work about the lightbulb, as outlined by sources at 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. Dealing with chemist Jonas Aylsworth, Edison soon designed a superior brown wax for recording cylinders.
“From a commercial viewpoint, the fabric 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 an exclusive industrial viewpoint from the material.
“It’s rather minimalist. It’s just suitable for what it must be,” he says. “It’s not overengineered.” There is one looming downside to 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 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 one of these must be individually grooved with a cutting stylus. Although the black wax could possibly be cast into grooved molds, making it possible for mass production of records.
Unfortunately for Edison and Aylsworth, the black wax was really a direct chemical descendant from 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 revealed that Team Edison had, in fact, developed the brown wax first. The firms eventually settled out from court.
Monroe is capable to study legal depositions from your suit and Aylsworth’s notebooks because of the Thomas A. Edison Papers Project at Rutgers University, which can be endeavoring to make more than 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 a much better knowledge of the decisions behind the materials’ chemical design. As an example, in an early experiment, Aylsworth crafted 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 their notebook. But after a couple of days, the top showed warning signs of crystallization and records created using it started sounding scratchy. So Aylsworth added aluminum towards the mix and found the correct mixture of “the good, the not so good, and the necessary” features of all the ingredients, Monroe explains.
The mix of stearic acid and palmitic is soft, but too much of it can make to get a weak wax. Adding sodium stearate adds some toughness, but it’s also in charge of the crystallization problem. The rigid pvc compound prevents the sodium stearate from crystallizing while also adding some additional 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 most 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 important waterproofing element.
Monroe is performing chemical analyses on both collection pieces with his fantastic synthesized samples to guarantee the materials are exactly the same and therefore the conclusions he draws from testing his materials are legit. As an illustration, he is able to look into the organic content of the wax using techniques including mass spectrometry and identify the metals inside a sample with X-ray fluorescence.
Monroe revealed the 1st comes from these analyses recently at a conference hosted with the Association for Recorded Sound Collections, or ARSC. Although his first couple of attempts to make brown wax were too crystalline-his stearic acid was too pure and had no palmitic acid inside it-he’s now making substances that happen to be 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 an alternative 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 can minimize the anxiety around the wax and reduce the probability that this will fracture, he adds.
The similarity between the original brown wax and Monroe’s brown wax also demonstrates that the content degrades very slowly, that is great news for individuals such as Peter Alyea, Monroe’s colleague at the Library of Congress.
Alyea desires to recover the information stored 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 great 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 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 within 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 too surprising considering 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 along with 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 rather than wax.
But when these cylinders were so great, why did the record industry move to flat platters? It’s much 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 your Cylinder Subcommittee for ARSC along with encouraged the Library of Congress to get started on the metal soaps project Monroe is taking care of.
In 1895, Berliner introduced discs based upon shellac, a resin secreted by female lac bugs, that might turn into a record industry staple for several years. Berliner’s discs used a combination of shellac, clay and cotton fibers, and a few carbon black for color, Klinger says. Record makers manufactured an incredible number of discs using this brittle and relatively inexpensive material.
“Shellac records dominated the industry from 1912 to 1952,” Klinger says. A number of these discs are actually called 78s for their playback speed of 78 revolutions-per-minute, give or go on a few rpm.
PVC has enough structural fortitude to aid a groove and resist a record needle.
Edison and Aylsworth also stepped in the chemistry of disc records using a material generally known as Condensite in 1912. “I think that is by far 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 had been comparable to Bakelite, which was 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 through the high-temperature molding process, which deformed a disc’s surface, Klinger explains.
Edison was literally using a bunch of Condensite every day in 1914, although 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 in the music industry were numbered. Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) records give 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 with the University of Southern Mississippi, offers one more reason why vinyl got to 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 to the plastic.
PVC is generally amorphous, but from a happy accident from the free-radical-mediated reactions that build polymer chains from smaller subunits, the fabric is 10 to 20% crystalline, Mathias says. As a result, PVC has enough structural fortitude to back up a groove and resist an archive needle without compromising smoothness.
Without having additives, PVC is clear-ish, Mathias says, so record vinyl needs something similar to carbon black to give it its famous black finish.
Finally, if Mathias was deciding on a polymer for records and funds was no object, he’d go along with polyimides. These materials have better thermal stability than vinyl, which is recognized to warp when left in cars on sunny days. Polyimides can also reproduce grooves better and provide a far more frictionless surface, Mathias adds.
But chemists continue to be tweaking and improving vinyl’s formulation, says Salstrom of Quality Record Pressings. He’s dealing with his vinyl supplier to locate a PVC composition that’s optimized for thicker, heavier records with deeper grooves to give listeners a sturdier, top quality product. Although Salstrom might be surprised at the resurgence in vinyl, he’s not planning to give anyone any excellent reasons to stop listening.
A soft brush normally can handle any dust that settles on the vinyl record. So how can listeners handle 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 assists the pvc compound go into-and out of-the groove.
Molecules in Tergitol 15-S-7 possess hydrophobic hydrocarbon chains which can 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 to connect it to your hydrophilic chain of repeating ethylene oxide units.
Finally, the 7 is a way of measuring the number of moles of ethylene oxide happen to be 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 blended with water.
The final result is actually a mild, fast-rinsing surfactant that can get inside and outside of grooves quickly, Cameron explains. The not so good news for vinyl audiophiles who might choose to use this in your own home is the fact Dow typically doesn’t sell surfactants directly to consumers. Their clientele are usually companies who make cleaning products.