At Quality Record Pressings in Salina, Kan., the influx of orders for vinyl records has become so excellent that this staff continues to be turning away requests since September. This resurgence in pvc compound popularity blindsided Gary Salstrom, the company’s general manger. The business is simply five years old, but Salstrom has been making records for the living since 1979.
“I can’t tell you how surprised I am,” he says.
Listeners aren’t just demanding more records; they would like to hear more genres on vinyl. Since many casual music consumers moved onto cassette tapes, compact discs, after which digital downloads in the last several decades, a compact contingent of listeners obsessed with audio quality supported a modest marketplace for certain musical styles on vinyl, notably classic jazz and orchestral recordings.
Now, seemingly the rest within the musical world gets pressed also. 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 it also beat out revenue from ad-supported online music streaming, such as 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 possess carried sounds within their grooves as time passes. They hope that in doing so, they will boost their capacity to create and preserve these records.
Eric B. Monroe, a chemist in the Library of Congress, is studying the composition of one of those materials, wax cylinders, to learn the way they age and degrade. To help with that, he or she is examining a story of litigation and skulduggery.
Although wax cylinders might appear to be a primitive storage medium, these people were a revelation during the time. Edison invented the phonograph in 1877 using cylinders covered with tinfoil, but he shelved the project to be effective in the lightbulb, based on sources at 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. Utilizing chemist Jonas Aylsworth, Edison soon created a superior brown wax for recording cylinders.
“From an industrial viewpoint, the content 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 a distinctive industrial viewpoint of your material.
“It’s rather minimalist. It’s just good enough for the purpose it must be,” he says. “It’s not overengineered.” There was one looming trouble with the beautiful 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 new and improved black wax.
To record sound into brown wax cylinders, each one needed to be individually grooved by using a cutting stylus. Although the black wax could possibly be cast into grooved molds, permitting mass manufacturing of records.
Unfortunately for Edison and Aylsworth, the black wax was actually 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 the defendants, Aylsworth’s lab notebooks showed that Team Edison had, actually, developed the brown wax first. The firms eventually settled away from court.
Monroe is in a position to study legal depositions from the suit and Aylsworth’s notebooks because of the Thomas A. Edison Papers Project at Rutgers University, which can be endeavoring to make a lot more than 5 million pages of documents associated with Edison publicly accessible.
With such documents, Monroe is tracking how Aylsworth and his awesome colleagues developed waxes and gaining a greater understanding of the decisions behind the materials’ chemical design. As an example, in a 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 essential fatty acids that differ by two carbon atoms.
That early soap was “almost perfection,” Aylsworth remarked in their notebook. But after a number of days, the top showed indications of crystallization and records made out of it started sounding scratchy. So Aylsworth added aluminum to the mix and located the correct combination of “the good, the not so good, and the necessary” features of the 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 upvc compound prevents the sodium stearate from crystallizing while also 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 most of these cylinders started sweating when summertime rolled around-they exuded moisture trapped through the humid air-and were recalled. Aylsworth then swapped out 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 has become performing chemical analyses on both collection pieces and his awesome synthesized samples to ensure the materials are identical which the conclusions he draws from testing his materials are legit. As an illustration, he can look at the organic content of the wax using techniques such as mass spectrometry and identify the metals inside a sample with X-ray fluorescence.
Monroe revealed the 1st is a result of these analyses recently at the conference hosted from 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 and had no palmitic acid within it-he’s now making substances that happen to 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, including 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 permit the cylinders to warm gradually, Monroe says. This can minimize the stress about the wax minimizing the probability it will fracture, he adds.
The similarity involving the original brown wax and Monroe’s brown wax also suggests that the fabric degrades very slowly, which can be great news for folks including Peter Alyea, Monroe’s colleague on the Library of Congress.
Alyea wants to recover the details stored in the cylinders’ grooves without playing them. To achieve this he captures and analyzes microphotographs from 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 in 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 appears to stand up to time-when stored and handled properly-may seem like a stroke of fortune, but it’s less than surprising taking into consideration the material’s progenitor.
“Edison was the engineer’s engineer,” Alyea says. The adjustments he and Aylsworth created 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 resulted in his second-generation moldable black wax and in the end to Blue Amberol Records, that were cylinders made using blue celluloid plastic as opposed to wax.
However if these cylinders were so great, why did the record industry change to flat platters? It’s simpler to store more flat records in less space, Alyea explains.
Emile Berliner, inventor of the gramophone, introduced disc-shaped gramophone records pressed in celluloid and hard rubber around 1890, says Bill Klinger. Klinger will be the chair of your Cylinder Subcommittee for ARSC and had encouraged the Library of Congress to start out the metal soaps project Monroe is working on.
In 1895, Berliner introduced discs based upon shellac, a resin secreted by female lac bugs, that could become a record industry staple for many years. Berliner’s discs used a combination of shellac, clay and cotton fibers, and several carbon black for color, Klinger says. Record makers manufactured numerous discs by using this brittle and relatively inexpensive material.
“Shellac records dominated the industry from 1912 to 1952,” Klinger says. Many of these discs are actually generally known as 78s for their 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 in the chemistry of disc records with a material referred to as Condensite in 1912. “I think that is quite possibly 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 which had been comparable 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 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 ton of Condensite daily in 1914, although 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.
However, when Columbia Records released vinyl long-playing records, or LPs, in 1948, shellac’s days inside the music industry were numbered. Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) records provide a quieter surface, store more music, and so are less brittle than shellac discs, Klinger says.
Lon J. Mathias, a polymer chemist and professor emeritus in the University of Southern Mississippi, offers one more reason 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 in to the plastic.
PVC is mostly amorphous, but from a happy accident in 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 support a groove and stand up to an archive needle without compromising smoothness.
Without the additives, PVC is obvious-ish, Mathias says, so record vinyl needs something like carbon black to give it its famous black finish.
Finally, if Mathias was selecting a polymer for records and cash was no object, he’d go along with polyimides. These materials have better thermal stability than vinyl, that has been known to warp when left in cars on sunny days. Polyimides may also reproduce grooves better and offer a much more frictionless surface, Mathias adds.
But chemists remain 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 present listeners a sturdier, high quality product. Although Salstrom could be surprised at the resurgence in vinyl, he’s not planning to give anyone any reasons to stop listening.
A soft brush normally can handle any dust that settles on a vinyl record. So how can listeners take care of 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 discover the chemistry which helps the clear pvc granule go into-and away 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 in order to connect it to your hydrophilic chain of repeating ethylene oxide units.
Finally, the 7 is really a measure of the number of moles of ethylene oxide happen to be in the surfactant. The greater the number, the greater number of 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 outcome is a mild, fast-rinsing surfactant that will get inside and out of grooves quickly, Cameron explains. The negative news for vinyl audiophiles who may wish to try this in your own home is that Dow typically doesn’t sell surfactants right to consumers. Their clients are often companies who make cleaning products.