At Quality Record Pressings in Salina, Kan., the influx of orders for vinyl records has been so excellent how the staff is turning away requests since September. This resurgence in pvc granule popularity blindsided Gary Salstrom, the company’s general manger. The company is just five years old, but Salstrom is making records to get a living since 1979.
“I can’t inform you how surprised I am just,” he says.
Listeners aren’t just demanding more records; they would like to hear more genres on vinyl. As many casual music consumers moved onto cassette tapes, compact discs, and then digital downloads within the last several decades, a small contingent of listeners passionate about audio quality supported a modest market for certain musical styles on vinyl, notably classic jazz and orchestral recordings.
Now, seemingly anything else from the musical world gets pressed as well. 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 and a new wave of record collectors are supporting vinyl’s second coming, scientists are looking at the chemistry of materials that carry and possess carried sounds with their grooves over time. They hope that in doing so, they will likely boost their capability 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 discover the way they age and degrade. To help you with the, he or she is examining a narrative of litigation and skulduggery.
Although wax cylinders might appear to be a primitive storage medium, these folks were a revelation at that time. Edison invented the phonograph in 1877 using cylinders covered with tinfoil, but he shelved the project to function in the lightbulb, as outlined by sources on 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 created a superior brown wax for recording cylinders.
“From a commercial viewpoint, the material is beautiful,” Monroe says. He started concentrating on this history project in September but, before that, was working with the specialty chemical firm Milliken & Co., giving him an original industrial viewpoint from the material.
“It’s rather minimalist. It’s just suitable for what it needs to be,” he says. “It’s not overengineered.” There seemed to be one looming trouble with the attractive 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 declared a patent around the brown wax in 1898. Although 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 must be individually grooved with a cutting stylus. But the black wax could be cast into grooved molds, enabling mass manufacturing of records.
Unfortunately for Edison and Aylsworth, the black wax was really 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 your defendants, Aylsworth’s lab notebooks demonstrated that Team Edison had, in reality, developed the brown wax first. The businesses eventually settled out from court.
Monroe continues to be capable of study legal depositions from your suit and Aylsworth’s notebooks because of the Thomas A. Edison Papers Project at Rutgers University, that is trying to make more than 5 million pages of documents associated with Edison publicly accessible.
With such documents, Monroe is tracking how Aylsworth and his colleagues developed waxes and gaining a greater idea of the decisions behind the materials’ chemical design. For instance, inside an early experiment, Aylsworth made 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 essential fatty acids that differ by two carbon atoms.
That early soap was “almost perfection,” Aylsworth remarked in the notebook. But after a number of days, the outer lining showed indications of crystallization and records made out of it started sounding scratchy. So Aylsworth added aluminum for the mix and found the proper combination of “the good, the unhealthy, as well as the necessary” features of the ingredients, Monroe explains.
The mix of stearic acid and palmitic is soft, but a lot of it can make to get 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 a little extra 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 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 your oleic acid for a simple hydrocarbon wax, ceresin. Like oleic acid, it softened the wax. Unlike oleic acid, it added a vital waterproofing element.
Monroe is performing chemical analyses on both collection pieces and his awesome synthesized samples to guarantee the materials are identical and therefore the conclusions he draws from testing his materials are legit. As an illustration, he is able to check 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 very first results from these analyses last month with a conference hosted with the Association for Recorded Sound Collections, or ARSC. Although his initial two attempts to make brown wax were too crystalline-his stearic acid was too pure and had no palmitic acid inside-he’s now making substances which are almost identical to Edison’s.
His experiments also advise that these metal soaps expand and contract a lot 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, the common current practice, preservationists should permit the cylinders to warm gradually, Monroe says. This will minimize the anxiety in the wax and lower the probability that it will fracture, he adds.
The similarity between the original brown wax and Monroe’s brown wax also shows that the information degrades very slowly, which can be great news for folks like Peter Alyea, Monroe’s colleague with the Library of Congress.
Alyea wishes to recover the data held in the cylinders’ grooves without playing them. To do so he captures and analyzes microphotographs of 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 in your collection,” Alyea says. “They’re basically invaluable.” Having those recordings captured within a material that appears to withstand time-when stored and handled properly-might appear to be a stroke of fortune, but it’s not surprising thinking about the material’s progenitor.
“Edison was the engineer’s engineer,” Alyea says. The alterations he and Aylsworth made to their formulations always served a purpose: to produce their cylinders heartier, longer playing, or higher fidelity. These considerations as well as the corresponding advances in formulations triggered his second-generation moldable black wax and ultimately to Blue Amberol Records, that were cylinders made using blue celluloid plastic as opposed to wax.
However, if these cylinders were so excellent, why did the record industry change to flat platters? It’s quicker 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 from the Cylinder Subcommittee for ARSC and had encouraged the Library of Congress to begin the metal soaps project Monroe is concentrating on.
In 1895, Berliner introduced discs based on shellac, a resin secreted by female lac bugs, that might develop into 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 numerous discs by using this brittle and relatively inexpensive material.
“Shellac records dominated the business from 1912 to 1952,” Klinger says. Many of these discs have become known as 78s because of 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 up the chemistry of disc records by using a material generally known as Condensite in 1912. “I believe that is probably the most impressive chemistry from 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 was just like Bakelite, which had been 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 to prevent water vapor from forming during 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, but 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.
But once Columbia Records released vinyl long-playing records, or LPs, in 1948, shellac’s days in the music industry were numbered. Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) records supply a quieter surface, store more music, and are a lot less brittle than shellac discs, Klinger says.
Lon J. Mathias, a polymer chemist and professor emeritus with the University of Southern Mississippi, offers another reason for why vinyl came to dominate records. “It’s cheap, and it’s easily molded,” he says. Although he can’t talk with the precise composition of today’s vinyl, he does share some general insights into the plastic.
PVC is mostly amorphous, but by way of a happy accident of your free-radical-mediated reactions that build polymer chains from smaller subunits, the information is 10 to 20% crystalline, Mathias says. As a result, PVC has enough structural fortitude to back up a groove and endure a record needle without compromising smoothness.
With no additives, PVC is apparent-ish, Mathias says, so record vinyl needs something like carbon black to give it its famous black finish.
Finally, if Mathias was deciding on a polymer to use 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 more frictionless surface, Mathias adds.
But chemists are still tweaking and improving vinyl’s formulation, says Salstrom of Quality Record Pressings. He’s dealing with his vinyl supplier to find a PVC composition that’s optimized for thicker, heavier records with deeper grooves to give listeners a sturdier, better quality product. Although Salstrom may be surprised by the resurgence in vinyl, he’s not trying to give anyone any top reasons to stop listening.
A soft brush can usually handle any dust that settles over a vinyl record. But exactly how can listeners deal with more tenacious grime and dirt?
The Library of Congress shares a recipe to get 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 transparent pvc compound end up in-and out from-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 your hydrocarbon chain for connecting it to your hydrophilic chain of repeating ethylene oxide units.
Finally, the 7 is a way of measuring the amount of moles of ethylene oxide have been in the surfactant. The higher 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 final result is a mild, fast-rinsing surfactant that can get inside and outside of grooves quickly, Cameron explains. The unhealthy news for vinyl audiophiles who might want to try this at home is Dow typically doesn’t sell surfactants straight to consumers. Their clientele are generally companies who make cleaning products.