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 business is simply five years old, but Salstrom continues to be making records for any living since 1979.
“I can’t explain to you how surprised I am just,” he says.
Listeners aren’t just demanding more records; they want to hear more genres on vinyl. As many casual music consumers moved onto cassette tapes, compact discs, after which digital downloads during the last several decades, a tiny 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 everything else inside the musical world is to get pressed also. The Recording Industry Association of America reported that vinyl record sales in 2015 exceeded $400 million in the U.S. That figure is vinyl’s highest since 1988, plus it 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 after a while. They hope that by doing this, they are going to boost their power to create and preserve these records.
Eric B. Monroe, a chemist on the Library of Congress, is studying the composition of some of those materials, wax cylinders, to discover how they age and degrade. To aid with that, he is examining a tale of litigation and skulduggery.
Although wax cylinders might appear to be a primitive storage medium, they were a revelation at that time. Edison invented the phonograph in 1877 using cylinders wrapped in tinfoil, but he shelved the project to be effective on the lightbulb, in accordance with sources on the Library of Congress.
But Edison was lured into the audio game after Alexander Graham Bell and his Volta Laboratory had created wax cylinders. Working together with chemist Jonas Aylsworth, Edison soon designed a superior brown wax for recording cylinders.
“From a commercial viewpoint, the information is beautiful,” Monroe says. He started taking care of this history project in September but, before that, was working in the specialty chemical firm Milliken & Co., giving him a distinctive industrial viewpoint of the material.
“It’s rather minimalist. It’s just good enough for what it must be,” he says. “It’s not overengineered.” There seemed to be one looming issue with 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 around the brown wax in 1898. Nevertheless 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 had to be individually grooved with a cutting stylus. Although the black wax could possibly be cast into grooved molds, making it possible for mass manufacture of records.
Unfortunately for Edison and Aylsworth, the black wax was really 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 the defendants, Aylsworth’s lab notebooks indicated that Team Edison had, actually, developed the brown wax first. Companies eventually settled from court.
Monroe is capable to study legal depositions from the suit and Aylsworth’s notebooks thanks to the Thomas A. Edison Papers Project at Rutgers University, that is attempting to make a lot more than 5 million pages of documents associated with Edison publicly accessible.
Using these documents, Monroe is tracking how Aylsworth and his awesome colleagues developed waxes and gaining a much better understanding of the decisions behind the materials’ chemical design. For instance, within an early experiment, Aylsworth created a soap using sodium hydroxide and industrial stearic acid. At that time, industrial-grade stearic acid was really a roughly 1:1 mixture 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 his notebook. But after several days, the top showed warning signs of crystallization and records created using it started sounding scratchy. So Aylsworth added aluminum towards the mix and located the proper mix of “the good, the bad, along with the necessary” features of all of the ingredients, Monroe explains.
This mixture of stearic acid and palmitic is soft, but way too much of it will make for a weak wax. Adding sodium stearate adds some toughness, but it’s also responsible for the crystallization problem. The soft pvc granule prevents the sodium stearate from crystallizing whilst adding additional toughness.
Actually, this wax was a touch 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 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 important waterproofing element.
Monroe has become performing chemical analyses for both collection pieces and his synthesized samples so that the materials are similar and that the conclusions he draws from testing his materials are legit. As an illustration, they can look at the organic content of the wax using techniques like mass spectrometry and identify the metals inside a sample with X-ray fluorescence.
Monroe revealed the very first results from these analyses recently at a conference hosted through the Association for Recorded Sound Collections, or ARSC. Although his initial 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 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, such as universities and libraries, usually store their collections at about 10 °C. As opposed to bringing the cylinders from cold storage directly to room temperature, which is the common current practice, preservationists should permit the cylinders to warm gradually, Monroe says. This can minimize the worries on the wax and lower the probability that this will fracture, he adds.
The similarity in between the original brown wax and Monroe’s brown wax also shows that the content degrades very slowly, which can be great news for people such as Peter Alyea, Monroe’s colleague with the Library of Congress.
Alyea desires to recover the details kept in the cylinders’ grooves without playing them. To do so he captures and analyzes microphotographs from the grooves, a technique pioneered by researchers at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.
Soft wax cylinders were perfect 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 into 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 in a material that appears to withstand time-when stored and handled properly-may seem like a stroke of fortune, but it’s not so surprising with 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 make their cylinders heartier, longer playing, or higher fidelity. These considerations and the corresponding advances in formulations generated his second-generation moldable black wax and ultimately to Blue Amberol Records, which were cylinders made out of blue celluloid plastic as an alternative to wax.
But when these cylinders were so great, why did the record industry switch to flat platters? It’s much easier 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 get started on the metal soaps project Monroe is focusing on.
In 1895, Berliner introduced discs based on shellac, a resin secreted by female lac bugs, that could be 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 countless discs using this brittle and comparatively cheap material.
“Shellac records dominated the business 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 have a few rpm.
PVC has enough structural fortitude to support a groove and resist an archive needle.
Edison and Aylsworth also stepped up the chemistry of disc records having a material called Condensite in 1912. “I feel that is probably 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 was much like Bakelite, that was recognized as the world’s first synthetic plastic with the American Chemical Society, C&EN’s publisher.
What set Condensite apart, though, was hexamethylenetetramine. Aylsworth added the compound to Condensite to prevent 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 every day in 1914, however the material never supplanted shellac, largely because Edison’s superior product came 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 supply a quieter surface, store more music, and are far less brittle than shellac discs, Klinger says.
Lon J. Mathias, a polymer chemist and professor emeritus at the University of Southern Mississippi, offers one more reason for why vinyl stumbled on dominate records. “It’s cheap, and it’s easily molded,” he says. Although he can’t talk with the specific composition of today’s vinyl, he does share some general insights in the plastic.
PVC is usually amorphous, but with a happy accident of the free-radical-mediated reactions that build polymer chains from smaller subunits, the fabric is 10 to 20% crystalline, Mathias says. For that reason, PVC has enough structural fortitude to back up a groove and stand up to a record needle without compromising smoothness.
Without having additives, PVC is obvious-ish, Mathias says, so record vinyl needs something such as carbon black allow it its famous black finish.
Finally, if Mathias was picking a polymer to use for records and funds was no object, he’d choose 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 give a much more frictionless surface, Mathias adds.
But chemists are still tweaking and improving vinyl’s formulation, says Salstrom of Quality Record Pressings. He’s working together with his vinyl supplier to identify a PVC composition that’s optimized for thicker, heavier records with deeper grooves to provide listeners a sturdier, higher quality product. Although Salstrom may be amazed at the resurgence in vinyl, he’s not looking to give anyone any reasons to stop listening.
A soft brush can usually handle any dust that settles on a vinyl record. But exactly how can listeners deal with more tenacious grime and dirt?
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 that assists the transparent pvc compound go into-and from-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 from the hydrocarbon chain to connect it into a hydrophilic chain of repeating ethylene oxide units.
Finally, the 7 is really a way of measuring the amount of moles of ethylene oxide happen to be in the surfactant. The higher the number, the greater number of water-soluble the compound is. Seven is squarely within the water-soluble category, Cameron says. Furthermore, she adds, the surfactant doesn’t become viscous or gel-like when blended with water.
The end result is really a mild, fast-rinsing surfactant that may get inside and out of grooves quickly, Cameron explains. The negative news for vinyl audiophiles who might choose to do this in your house is the fact Dow typically doesn’t sell surfactants right to consumers. Their clientele are generally companies who make cleaning products.