At Quality Record Pressings in Salina, Kan., the influx of orders for vinyl records has been so great how the staff is turning away requests since September. This resurgence in pvc granule popularity blindsided Gary Salstrom, the company’s general manger. The organization is definitely 5 years old, but Salstrom has become making records to get a living since 1979.
“I can’t explain to you how surprised I am,” he says.
Listeners aren’t just demanding more records; they would like to pay attention to more genres on vinyl. Since many casual music consumers moved onto cassette tapes, compact discs, and after that digital downloads within the last several decades, a compact contingent of listeners obsessive about audio quality supported a modest marketplace for certain musical styles on vinyl, notably classic jazz and orchestral recordings.
Now, seemingly the rest inside the musical world is becoming 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 beat out revenue from ad-supported online music streaming, like 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 considering the chemistry of materials that carry and possess carried sounds within their grooves after a while. They hope that by doing this, they will boost their ability to create and preserve these records.
Eric B. Monroe, a chemist at the Library of Congress, is studying the composition of one of those materials, wax cylinders, to learn the way that they age and degrade. To help with that, he or she is examining a tale of litigation and skulduggery.
Although wax cylinders might appear to be a primitive storage medium, these were a revelation back then. Edison invented the phonograph in 1877 using cylinders wrapped in tinfoil, but he shelved the project to work around the lightbulb, based on sources with the Library of Congress.
But Edison was lured into the audio game after Alexander Graham Bell with his fantastic Volta Laboratory had created wax cylinders. Working together with chemist Jonas Aylsworth, Edison soon developed a superior brown wax for recording cylinders.
“From an industrial viewpoint, the fabric is beautiful,” Monroe says. He started focusing on this history project in September but, before that, was working with the specialty chemical firm Milliken & Co., giving him an original industrial viewpoint of your material.
“It’s rather minimalist. It’s just suitable for which it needs to 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 away and off to help him copy Edison’s recipe, Monroe says. MacDonald then filed for a patent in the brown wax in 1898. Although the lawsuit didn’t come until after Edison and Aylsworth introduced a brand new and improved black wax.
To record sound into brown wax cylinders, each one of these needed to be individually grooved by using a cutting stylus. Although the black wax could be cast into grooved molds, allowing for mass manufacturing of records.
Unfortunately for Edison and Aylsworth, the black wax had been a direct chemical descendant in 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 revealed that Team Edison had, actually, developed the brown wax first. The firms eventually settled out of court.
Monroe has become capable 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 attempting to make a lot more than 5 million pages of documents related to Edison publicly accessible.
By using these documents, Monroe is tracking how Aylsworth with his fantastic colleagues developed waxes and gaining an improved knowledge of the decisions behind the materials’ chemical design. As an illustration, in a early experiment, Aylsworth crafted a soap using sodium hydroxide and industrial stearic acid. Back then, industrial-grade stearic acid had been a roughly 1:1 combination of stearic acid and palmitic acid, two fatty acids that differ by two carbon atoms.
That early soap was “almost perfection,” Aylsworth remarked in his notebook. But after a couple of days, the surface showed indications of crystallization and records made out of it started sounding scratchy. So Aylsworth added aluminum for the mix and located the right blend of “the good, the not so good, and also the necessary” features of all ingredients, Monroe explains.
The mix of stearic acid and palmitic is soft, but way too much of it makes to get a weak wax. Adding sodium stearate adds some toughness, but it’s also accountable for the crystallization problem. The soft pvc granule prevents the sodium stearate from crystallizing while adding some additional toughness.
In reality, this wax was a touch too tough for Aylsworth’s liking. To soften the wax, he added another fatty acid, oleic acid. But the majority 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 for the simple hydrocarbon wax, ceresin. Like oleic acid, it softened the wax. Unlike oleic acid, it added an essential waterproofing element.
Monroe is performing chemical analyses for both collection pieces along with his synthesized samples to guarantee the materials are identical and this the conclusions he draws from testing his materials are legit. As an example, they can check the organic content of your wax using techniques including mass spectrometry and identify the metals in the sample with X-ray fluorescence.
Monroe revealed the first results from these analyses last month with 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 and had no palmitic acid inside-he’s now making substances that happen to be almost just like Edison’s.
His experiments also propose that these metal soaps expand and contract a great deal with changing temperatures. Institutions that preserve wax cylinders, like universities and libraries, usually store their collections at about 10 °C. As an alternative to bringing the cylinders from cold storage right to room temperature, which is the common current practice, preservationists should permit the cylinders to warm gradually, Monroe says. This will likely minimize the stress on the wax and lower the probability it will fracture, he adds.
The similarity between your original brown wax and Monroe’s brown wax also suggests that the material degrades very slowly, which happens to be great news for people such as Peter Alyea, Monroe’s colleague in the Library of Congress.
Alyea wants to recover the information held in the cylinders’ grooves without playing them. To accomplish this he captures and analyzes microphotographs of your grooves, a technique pioneered by researchers at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.
Soft wax cylinders were just the thing 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 in your 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 surprising considering the material’s progenitor.
“Edison was the engineer’s engineer,” Alyea says. The adjustments he and Aylsworth made to their formulations always served a purpose: to produce their cylinders heartier, longer playing, or higher fidelity. These considerations and the corresponding advances in formulations resulted in his second-generation moldable black wax and ultimately to Blue Amberol Records, that had been cylinders made out of blue celluloid plastic as opposed to 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 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 and had encouraged the Library of Congress to start out the metal soaps project Monroe is focusing on.
In 1895, Berliner introduced discs based on shellac, a resin secreted by female lac bugs, that will be a record industry staple for decades. 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 comparatively cheap material.
“Shellac records dominated the market from 1912 to 1952,” Klinger says. Most of these discs have become referred to as 78s for their playback speed of 78 revolutions-per-minute, give or go on a few rpm.
PVC has enough structural fortitude to back up a groove and stand up to a record needle.
Edison and Aylsworth also stepped within the chemistry of disc records having a material generally known as Condensite in 1912. “I feel that is quite possibly 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 was similar to Bakelite, that has been defined 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 to avoid water vapor from forming throughout 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, although the material never supplanted shellac, largely because Edison’s superior product was included with a substantially higher asking price, 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 provide 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 on the University of Southern Mississippi, offers one more reason why vinyl arrived at dominate records. “It’s cheap, and it’s easily molded,” he says. Although he can’t speak to the specific composition of today’s vinyl, he does share some general insights to the plastic.
PVC is generally 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 endure an archive needle without compromising smoothness.
Without the additives, PVC is clear-ish, Mathias says, so record vinyl needs something such as carbon black to give it its famous black finish.
Finally, if Mathias was picking a polymer for records and cash was no object, he’d opt for polyimides. These materials have better thermal stability than vinyl, which is known to warp when left in cars on sunny days. Polyimides may 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 utilizing his vinyl supplier to identify a PVC composition that’s optimized for thicker, heavier records with deeper grooves to present listeners a sturdier, top quality product. Although Salstrom could be amazed at the resurgence in vinyl, he’s not looking to give anyone any top reasons to stop listening.
A soft brush typically handle any dust that settles with a vinyl record. So how can listeners take care of more tenacious dirt and grime?
The Library of Congress shares a recipe for any 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 which helps the clear pvc granule get into-and out of-the groove.
Molecules in Tergitol 15-S-7 possess hydrophobic hydrocarbon chains that 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 connect 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 will be in the surfactant. The higher the number, the greater 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 mixed with water.
The result is really a mild, fast-rinsing surfactant that could get out and in of grooves quickly, Cameron explains. The not so good news for vinyl audiophiles who may want to use this in your own home is that Dow typically doesn’t sell surfactants instantly to consumers. Their clients are generally companies who make cleaning products.