At Quality Record Pressings in Salina, Kan., the influx of orders for vinyl records has been so excellent that this staff is turning away requests since September. This resurgence in pvc pellet popularity blindsided Gary Salstrom, the company’s general manger. The corporation is simply five-years old, but Salstrom has become making records for any living since 1979.
“I can’t tell 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 most casual music consumers moved onto cassette tapes, compact discs, and then digital downloads in the last several decades, a compact contingent of listeners passionate about audio quality supported a modest niche for certain musical styles on vinyl, notably classic jazz and orchestral recordings.
Now, seemingly everything from the musical world is becoming pressed at the same time. The Recording Industry Association of America reported that vinyl record sales in 2015 exceeded $400 million inside the U.S. That figure is vinyl’s highest since 1988, and yes it beat out revenue from ad-supported online music streaming, for example 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 have carried sounds inside their grooves after a while. They hope that by doing this, they are going to increase their capability to create and preserve these records.
Eric B. Monroe, a chemist with the Library of Congress, is studying the composition of among those materials, wax cylinders, to find out how they age and degrade. To assist using that, he or she is examining a story 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 be effective in the lightbulb, based on 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. Dealing with chemist Jonas Aylsworth, Edison soon developed a superior brown wax for recording cylinders.
“From an industrial 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 a unique industrial viewpoint of the material.
“It’s rather minimalist. It’s just sufficient for the purpose it must be,” he says. “It’s not overengineered.” There was one looming trouble with the stunning 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 in the brown wax in 1898. Although the lawsuit didn’t come until after Edison and Aylsworth introduced a new and improved black wax.
To record sound into brown wax cylinders, every one needed to be individually grooved by using a cutting stylus. But the black wax could possibly be cast into grooved molds, making it possible for mass manufacturing of records.
Unfortunately for Edison and Aylsworth, the black wax had been 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 your defendants, Aylsworth’s lab notebooks demonstrated that Team Edison had, actually, developed the brown wax first. The firms eventually settled from court.
Monroe continues to be capable to study legal depositions from the suit and Aylsworth’s notebooks thanks to the Thomas A. Edison Papers Project at Rutgers University, which is working to make over 5 million pages of documents relevant to Edison publicly accessible.
With such documents, Monroe is tracking how Aylsworth and his colleagues developed waxes and gaining a better understanding of the decisions behind the materials’ chemical design. As an example, inside an early experiment, Aylsworth crafted 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 their notebook. But after a couple of days, the top showed warning signs of crystallization and records made with it started sounding scratchy. So Aylsworth added aluminum to the mix and discovered the correct mixture of “the good, the bad, as well as the necessary” features of the ingredients, Monroe explains.
The combination of stearic acid and palmitic is soft, but an excessive amount of this 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 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 most these cylinders started sweating when summertime rolled around-they exuded moisture trapped from your humid air-and were recalled. Aylsworth then swapped out the oleic acid for a simple hydrocarbon wax, ceresin. Like oleic acid, it softened the wax. Unlike oleic acid, it added an important waterproofing element.
Monroe is performing chemical analyses for both collection pieces with his fantastic synthesized samples so that the materials are similar and this the conclusions he draws from testing his materials are legit. For instance, he can check the organic content of the wax using techniques such as mass spectrometry and identify the metals in the sample with X-ray fluorescence.
Monroe revealed the 1st is a result of these analyses recently in a conference hosted by 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 along with no palmitic acid in it-he’s now making substances that happen to be almost identical to Edison’s.
His experiments also advise that these metal soaps expand and contract quite a bit with changing temperatures. Institutions that preserve wax cylinders, for example universities and libraries, usually store their collections at about 10 °C. Instead of bringing the cylinders from cold storage right to room temperature, the common current practice, preservationists should enable the cylinders to warm gradually, Monroe says. This may minimize the anxiety about the wax and minimize the probability which it will fracture, he adds.
The similarity involving the original brown wax and Monroe’s brown wax also shows that the information degrades very slowly, that is great news for individuals such as Peter Alyea, Monroe’s colleague on the Library of Congress.
Alyea would like to recover the information held in the cylinders’ grooves without playing them. To do so he captures and analyzes microphotographs from the grooves, a strategy pioneered by researchers at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.
Soft wax cylinders were ideal 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 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 in a material that appears to stand up to time-when stored and handled properly-might appear to be a stroke of fortune, but it’s not so surprising with the material’s progenitor.
“Edison was the engineer’s engineer,” Alyea says. The adjustments he and Aylsworth designed to their formulations always served a purpose: to help make 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 eventually to Blue Amberol Records, which were cylinders created using blue celluloid plastic as opposed to wax.
However if these cylinders were so great, why did the record industry move to flat platters? It’s quicker 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 is definitely the chair of your Cylinder Subcommittee for ARSC along with encouraged the Library of Congress to begin the metal soaps project Monroe is focusing on.
In 1895, Berliner introduced discs based upon shellac, a resin secreted by female lac bugs, that might turn into a record industry staple for years. Berliner’s discs used a combination of shellac, clay and cotton fibers, plus some carbon black for color, Klinger says. Record makers manufactured numerous discs by using this brittle and comparatively cheap material.
“Shellac records dominated the business from 1912 to 1952,” Klinger says. Most of these discs are actually referred to as 78s because of 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 a record needle.
Edison and Aylsworth also stepped within the chemistry of disc records with a material generally known as Condensite in 1912. “I assume that is probably 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 which had been similar to Bakelite, which was acknowledged 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 avoid water vapor from forming during the high-temperature molding process, which deformed a disc’s surface, Klinger explains.
Edison was literally using a lot of Condensite daily in 1914, nevertheless 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.
But once Columbia Records released vinyl long-playing records, or LPs, in 1948, shellac’s days from the music industry were numbered. Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) records supply a quieter surface, store more music, and they are less brittle than shellac discs, Klinger says.
Lon J. Mathias, a polymer chemist and professor emeritus on the University of Southern Mississippi, offers another reason why for why vinyl got to 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 into the plastic.
PVC is mainly amorphous, but by a happy accident from the free-radical-mediated reactions that build polymer chains from smaller subunits, the material is 10 to 20% crystalline, Mathias says. For that reason, PVC has enough structural fortitude to assist a groove and resist an archive needle without compromising smoothness.
Without having additives, PVC is apparent-ish, Mathias says, so record vinyl needs something similar to carbon black to give it its famous black finish.
Finally, if Mathias was selecting a polymer to use for records and funds was no object, he’d choose polyimides. These materials have better thermal stability than vinyl, which is seen 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 continue to be 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 present listeners a sturdier, high quality product. Although Salstrom might be astonished at the resurgence in vinyl, he’s not seeking to give anyone any good reasons to stop listening.
A soft brush usually can handle any dust that settles with a vinyl record. But exactly how can listeners deal with more tenacious dirt and grime?
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 helps the pvc compound end up in-and away from-the groove.
Molecules in Tergitol 15-S-7 possess hydrophobic hydrocarbon chains that happen to 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 the hydrocarbon chain to connect it to some hydrophilic chain of repeating ethylene oxide units.
Finally, the 7 is actually a way of measuring how many moles of ethylene oxide have been in the surfactant. The higher the number, the greater 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 combined with water.
The result can be a mild, fast-rinsing surfactant that may get inside and out of grooves quickly, Cameron explains. The not so good news for vinyl audiophiles who may wish to try this in your house is that Dow typically doesn’t sell surfactants instantly to consumers. Their potential customers are typically companies who make cleaning products.