At Quality Record Pressings in Salina, Kan., the influx of orders for vinyl records is 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 has been making records for the living since 1979.
“I can’t let you know how surprised I am just,” he says.
Listeners aren’t just demanding more records; they wish to hear more genres on vinyl. Since many casual music consumers moved onto cassette tapes, compact discs, and after that digital downloads in the last several decades, a tiny contingent of listeners obsessive about audio quality supported a modest market for certain musical styles on vinyl, notably classic jazz and orchestral recordings.
Now, seemingly everything else in 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 within the U.S. That figure is vinyl’s highest since 1988, and yes it beat out revenue from ad-supported online music streaming, such as the free version of Spotify.
While old-school audiophiles as well as 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 with their grooves as time passes. They hope that in doing so, they will likely enhance their power to create and preserve these records.
Eric B. Monroe, a chemist at the Library of Congress, is studying the composition of some of those materials, wax cylinders, to determine how they age and degrade. To assist with the, he or she is examining a story of litigation and skulduggery.
Although wax cylinders may seem like a primitive storage medium, they were a revelation at that time. Edison invented the phonograph in 1877 using cylinders covered with tinfoil, but he shelved the project to function about the lightbulb, as outlined by sources with the Library of Congress.
But Edison was lured back into the audio game after Alexander Graham Bell along with his Volta Laboratory had created wax cylinders. Working with chemist Jonas Aylsworth, Edison soon developed a superior brown wax for recording cylinders.
“From an industrial viewpoint, the fabric is beautiful,” Monroe says. He started taking care of this history project in September but, before that, was working at the specialty chemical firm Milliken & Co., giving him an exclusive industrial viewpoint of your material.
“It’s rather minimalist. It’s just sufficient for what it needs to be,” he says. “It’s not overengineered.” There was one looming issue 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 to help him copy Edison’s recipe, Monroe says. MacDonald then declared 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 must be individually grooved using a cutting stylus. But the black wax might be cast into grooved molds, permitting mass manufacturing of records.
Unfortunately for Edison and Aylsworth, the black wax was 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 that defendants, Aylsworth’s lab notebooks showed that Team Edison had, in reality, developed the brown wax first. Companies eventually settled away from court.
Monroe has been in a position to study legal depositions through the suit and Aylsworth’s notebooks thanks to the Thomas A. Edison Papers Project at Rutgers University, which happens to be attempting to make over 5 million pages of documents relevant to Edison publicly accessible.
Utilizing these documents, Monroe is tracking how Aylsworth and his colleagues developed waxes and gaining an improved 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 blend of stearic acid and palmitic acid, two fatty acids that differ by two carbon atoms.
That early soap was “almost perfection,” Aylsworth remarked within his notebook. But after several days, the outer lining showed warning signs of crystallization and records created using it started sounding scratchy. So Aylsworth added aluminum to the mix and located the best mixture of “the good, the not so good, and the necessary” features of the ingredients, Monroe explains.
The combination of stearic acid and palmitic is soft, but an excessive amount of it can make to get a 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 as well as adding additional toughness.
Actually, this wax was a tad 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 from the humid air-and were recalled. Aylsworth then swapped out your oleic acid to get a simple hydrocarbon wax, ceresin. Like oleic acid, it softened the wax. Unlike oleic acid, it added an essential waterproofing element.
Monroe has been performing chemical analyses on both collection pieces and his synthesized samples so that the materials are identical and this the conclusions he draws from testing his materials are legit. As an example, he could check the organic content of the wax using techniques including mass spectrometry and identify the metals in the sample with X-ray fluorescence.
Monroe revealed the 1st comes from these analyses last month at a conference hosted through the Association for Recorded Sound Collections, or ARSC. Although his initial 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 just like Edison’s.
His experiments also advise 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. Instead of bringing the cylinders from cold storage straight to room temperature, the common current practice, preservationists should permit the cylinders to warm gradually, Monroe says. This may minimize the anxiety on the wax minimizing the probability it will fracture, he adds.
The similarity in between the original brown wax and Monroe’s brown wax also shows that the material degrades very slowly, which is great news for folks including Peter Alyea, Monroe’s colleague with the Library of Congress.
Alyea would like to recover the data saved in the cylinders’ grooves without playing them. To accomplish this he captures and analyzes microphotographs in 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 ten thousand cylinders with recordings of Native Americans in our collection,” Alyea says. “They’re basically invaluable.” Having those recordings captured in the material that appears to endure time-when stored and handled properly-might appear to be a stroke of fortune, but it’s not too surprising thinking about the material’s progenitor.
“Edison was the engineer’s engineer,” Alyea says. The modifications he and Aylsworth intended to their formulations always served a purpose: to create 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, that were cylinders created using blue celluloid plastic as opposed to wax.
But when these cylinders were so excellent, why did the record industry switch to flat platters? It’s simpler 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 may be the chair of your 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 according to shellac, a resin secreted by female lac bugs, that might develop into a record industry staple for years. Berliner’s discs used a combination of shellac, clay and cotton fibers, and several carbon black for color, Klinger says. Record makers manufactured countless discs applying this brittle and relatively inexpensive material.
“Shellac records dominated the market from 1912 to 1952,” Klinger says. Several of these discs are now called 78s for their playback speed of 78 revolutions-per-minute, give or require a few rpm.
PVC has enough structural fortitude to aid 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 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 was similar to Bakelite, which had been accepted as the world’s first synthetic plastic from 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 in the high-temperature molding process, which deformed a disc’s surface, Klinger explains.
Edison was literally using a huge amount of Condensite every day in 1914, nevertheless 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.
However, when 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 are far 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 vinyl got to dominate records. “It’s cheap, and it’s easily molded,” he says. Although he can’t speak with the particular composition of today’s vinyl, he does share some general insights in to the plastic.
PVC is generally amorphous, but by way of a happy accident of your free-radical-mediated reactions that build polymer chains from smaller subunits, the material is 10 to 20% crystalline, Mathias says. Consequently, PVC has enough structural fortitude to support a groove and stand up to an archive needle without compromising smoothness.
With no 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 deciding on a polymer for records and cash was no object, he’d go along with polyimides. These materials have better thermal stability than vinyl, which was seen to warp when left in cars on sunny days. Polyimides may also reproduce grooves better and provide 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 dealing with his vinyl supplier to identify a PVC composition that’s optimized for thicker, heavier records with deeper grooves to present listeners a sturdier, better quality product. Although Salstrom could be amazed at the resurgence in vinyl, he’s not looking to give anyone any reasons to stop listening.
A soft brush typically handle any dust that settles with a vinyl record. But just how can listeners handle 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 which helps the clear pvc granule end up in-and out of-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 the hydrocarbon chain to get in touch it to your hydrophilic chain of repeating ethylene oxide units.
Finally, the 7 can be a measure of 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 blended with water.
The final result is a mild, fast-rinsing surfactant that will get inside and outside of grooves quickly, Cameron explains. The negative news for vinyl audiophiles who might want to try this in your house is that Dow typically doesn’t sell surfactants directly to consumers. Their potential customers are often companies who make cleaning products.