At Quality Record Pressings in Salina, Kan., the influx of orders for vinyl records has become so great how the staff continues to be turning away requests since September. This resurgence in pvc pellet popularity blindsided Gary Salstrom, the company’s general manger. The company is merely five years old, but Salstrom is making records for the 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 listen to more genres on vinyl. As most casual music consumers moved onto cassette tapes, compact discs, then digital downloads in the last several decades, a little 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 within the musical world is becoming pressed too. 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, plus it 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 considering the chemistry of materials that carry and possess carried sounds within their grooves over time. They hope that by doing this, they are going to increase their power to create and preserve these records.
Eric B. Monroe, a chemist with the Library of Congress, is studying the composition of some of those materials, wax cylinders, to learn the way that they age and degrade. To assist using that, he is examining a tale 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 operate on the lightbulb, based on 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 developed a superior brown wax for recording cylinders.
“From an industrial viewpoint, the information 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 a distinctive industrial viewpoint of your material.
“It’s rather minimalist. It’s just good enough for what it needs to be,” he says. “It’s not overengineered.” There is 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 off and away to help him copy Edison’s recipe, Monroe says. MacDonald then filed for a patent about the brown wax in 1898. Although the lawsuit didn’t come until after Edison and Aylsworth introduced a fresh and improved black wax.
To record sound into brown wax cylinders, each one needed to be individually grooved having a cutting stylus. Although the black wax could possibly be cast into grooved molds, permitting mass creation of records.
Unfortunately for Edison and Aylsworth, the black wax was a direct chemical descendant of your 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 reality, developed the brown wax first. Companies eventually settled out from court.
Monroe is capable to study legal depositions from your suit and Aylsworth’s notebooks on account of the Thomas A. Edison Papers Project at Rutgers University, that is attempting to make over 5 million pages of documents linked to Edison publicly accessible.
By using these documents, Monroe is tracking how Aylsworth along with his colleagues developed waxes and gaining a much better comprehension of the decisions behind the materials’ chemical design. For instance, in a early experiment, Aylsworth produced a soap using sodium hydroxide and industrial stearic acid. Back then, industrial-grade stearic acid was really 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 warning signs of crystallization and records made using it started sounding scratchy. So Aylsworth added aluminum towards the mix and discovered the right combination of “the good, the bad, and the necessary” features of all the ingredients, Monroe explains.
The mix of stearic acid and palmitic is soft, but a lot of it will make for the weak wax. Adding sodium stearate adds some toughness, but it’s also accountable for the crystallization problem. The rigid pvc compound prevents the sodium stearate from crystallizing whilst adding some additional toughness.
The truth is, 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 from the humid air-and were recalled. Aylsworth then swapped out of the oleic acid to get a simple hydrocarbon wax, ceresin. Like oleic acid, it softened the wax. Unlike oleic acid, it added an important waterproofing element.
Monroe continues to be performing chemical analyses on collection pieces with his fantastic synthesized samples so that the materials are exactly the same and that the conclusions he draws from testing his materials are legit. For example, he can look at the organic content of a wax using techniques including mass spectrometry and identify the metals in the sample with X-ray fluorescence.
Monroe revealed the very first comes from these analyses last month in a conference hosted by the Association for Recorded Sound Collections, or ARSC. Although his first two attempts to make brown wax were too crystalline-his stearic acid was too pure along with no palmitic acid inside-he’s now making substances which can be almost identical to Edison’s.
His experiments also propose 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. Rather than bringing the cylinders from cold storage right to room temperature, the common current practice, preservationists should allow the cylinders to warm gradually, Monroe says. This may minimize the stress about the wax and lower the probability that this will fracture, he adds.
The similarity between your original brown wax and Monroe’s brown wax also implies that the fabric degrades very slowly, which is great news for people including Peter Alyea, Monroe’s colleague on the Library of Congress.
Alyea wants to recover the info saved in the cylinders’ grooves without playing them. To do so he captures and analyzes microphotographs of 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 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 generally seems to stand up to time-when stored and handled properly-might appear to be a stroke of fortune, but it’s not too 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 create their cylinders heartier, longer playing, or higher fidelity. These considerations as well as the corresponding advances in formulations resulted in his second-generation moldable black wax and finally to Blue Amberol Records, that were cylinders made out of blue celluloid plastic rather than 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 the Cylinder Subcommittee for ARSC along with 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 might be a record industry staple for many years. Berliner’s discs used a mixture of shellac, clay and cotton fibers, plus some carbon black for color, Klinger says. Record makers manufactured millions of discs employing this brittle and comparatively cheap material.
“Shellac records dominated the business from 1912 to 1952,” Klinger says. A number of these discs are actually known as 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 endure an archive needle.
Edison and Aylsworth also stepped up the chemistry of disc records using a material known as Condensite in 1912. “I assume that is essentially 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 just like 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 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 huge amount of Condensite per day in 1914, however the material never supplanted shellac, largely because Edison’s superior product came with a substantially higher price tag, Klinger says. Edison stopped producing records in 1929.
However, when Columbia Records released vinyl long-playing records, or LPs, in 1948, shellac’s days within the music industry were numbered. Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) records provide a quieter surface, store more music, and therefore are far less brittle than shellac discs, Klinger says.
Lon J. Mathias, a polymer chemist and professor emeritus in the University of Southern Mississippi, offers another reason why for why vinyl arrived at dominate records. “It’s cheap, and it’s easily molded,” he says. Although he can’t speak with the precise composition of today’s vinyl, he does share some general insights to the plastic.
PVC is generally amorphous, but by way of a happy accident from 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 support a groove and withstand an archive needle without compromising smoothness.
Without any additives, PVC is apparent-ish, Mathias says, so record vinyl needs something like carbon black allow it its famous black finish.
Finally, if Mathias was choosing a polymer for records and cash was no object, he’d opt for polyimides. These materials have better thermal stability than vinyl, which is proven to warp when left in cars on sunny days. Polyimides could also reproduce grooves better and present an even 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 give listeners a sturdier, top quality product. Although Salstrom may be amazed at the resurgence in vinyl, he’s not seeking to give anyone any excellent reasons to stop listening.
A soft brush can usually handle any dust that settles on a vinyl record. But just how can listeners cope with more tenacious grime and dirt?
The Library of Congress shares a recipe for 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 that can help the clear pvc granule end up in-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 of your hydrocarbon chain for connecting 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 have been 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 combined with water.
The end result is really a mild, fast-rinsing surfactant that will get in and out of grooves quickly, Cameron explains. The bad 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 customers are generally companies who make cleaning products.