At Quality Record Pressings in Salina, Kan., the influx of orders for vinyl records continues to be so great that the staff has become turning away requests since September. This resurgence in pvc pellet popularity blindsided Gary Salstrom, the company’s general manger. The corporation is just five-years old, but Salstrom continues to be making records for a living since 1979.
“I can’t explain to you how surprised I am,” he says.
Listeners aren’t just demanding more records; they need to pay attention to more genres on vinyl. Because so many casual music consumers moved onto cassette tapes, compact discs, then digital downloads in the last several decades, a little contingent of listeners passionate about audio quality supported a modest marketplace for certain musical styles on vinyl, notably classic jazz and orchestral recordings.
Now, seemingly everything else from the musical world gets 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, and yes it beat out revenue from ad-supported online music streaming, including 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 possess carried sounds in their grooves over time. They hope that by doing this, they are going to boost their capability to create and preserve these records.
Eric B. Monroe, a chemist in the Library of Congress, is studying the composition of among those materials, wax cylinders, to determine the way they age and degrade. To assist with that, he is examining a narrative of litigation and skulduggery.
Although wax cylinders might appear to be a primitive storage medium, they were a revelation at the time. Edison invented the phonograph in 1877 using cylinders wrapped in tinfoil, but he shelved the project to be effective around the lightbulb, in accordance with sources with the Library of Congress.
But Edison was lured back into the audio game after Alexander Graham Bell with his fantastic Volta Laboratory had created wax cylinders. Working with chemist Jonas Aylsworth, Edison soon designed a superior brown wax for recording cylinders.
“From a commercial viewpoint, the content is beautiful,” Monroe says. He started working on this history project in September but, before that, was working in the specialty chemical firm Milliken & Co., giving him a unique industrial viewpoint from the material.
“It’s rather minimalist. It’s just sufficient for the purpose it must be,” he says. “It’s not overengineered.” There was clearly one looming trouble 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 in the brown wax in 1898. But the lawsuit didn’t come until after Edison and Aylsworth introduced a new and improved black wax.
To record sound into brown wax cylinders, each would have 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 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 that defendants, Aylsworth’s lab notebooks indicated that Team Edison had, in fact, developed the brown wax first. The firms eventually settled from court.
Monroe is able to study legal depositions from your suit and Aylsworth’s notebooks thanks to the Thomas A. Edison Papers Project at Rutgers University, that is trying to make greater than 5 million pages of documents related to Edison publicly accessible.
Using these documents, Monroe is tracking how Aylsworth and his colleagues developed waxes and gaining a much better knowledge of the decisions behind the materials’ chemical design. As an illustration, inside an early experiment, Aylsworth crafted a soap using sodium hydroxide and industrial stearic acid. Back then, industrial-grade stearic acid was really a roughly 1:1 blend 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 a number of days, the outer lining showed warning signs of crystallization and records made out of it started sounding scratchy. So Aylsworth added aluminum on the mix and located the proper mixture of “the good, the unhealthy, as well as the necessary” features of the ingredients, Monroe explains.
The combination of stearic acid and palmitic is soft, but way too much of it can make for the weak wax. Adding sodium stearate adds some toughness, but it’s also responsible for the crystallization problem. The rigid pvc compound prevents the sodium stearate from crystallizing whilst adding a little extra toughness.
Actually, this wax was a little 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 in the humid air-and were recalled. Aylsworth then swapped the oleic acid for any simple hydrocarbon wax, ceresin. Like oleic acid, it softened the wax. Unlike oleic acid, it added an essential waterproofing element.
Monroe continues to be performing chemical analyses for both collection pieces and his awesome synthesized samples so that the materials are the same which the conclusions he draws from testing his materials are legit. For example, they can examine the organic content of any wax using techniques for example mass spectrometry and identify the metals within a sample with X-ray fluorescence.
Monroe revealed the very first is a result of these analyses recently at the 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 and had no palmitic acid inside-he’s now making substances which are almost identical to Edison’s.
His experiments also claim that these metal soaps expand and contract a lot with changing temperatures. Institutions that preserve wax cylinders, including universities and libraries, usually store their collections at about 10 °C. Instead of bringing the cylinders from cold storage right to room temperature, which is the common current practice, preservationists should enable the cylinders to warm gradually, Monroe says. This will minimize the strain about the wax and lower the probability it will fracture, he adds.
The similarity between the original brown wax and Monroe’s brown wax also implies that the content degrades very slowly, which is great news for folks like Peter Alyea, Monroe’s colleague with the Library of Congress.
Alyea would like to recover the info kept in the cylinders’ grooves without playing them. To achieve this he captures and analyzes microphotographs in 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 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 inside our collection,” Alyea says. “They’re basically invaluable.” Having those recordings captured inside a material that seems to endure time-when stored and handled properly-may seem like 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 intended to their formulations always served a purpose: to make their cylinders heartier, longer playing, or higher fidelity. These considerations along with the corresponding advances in formulations generated his second-generation moldable black wax and ultimately to Blue Amberol Records, which were cylinders made using blue celluloid plastic instead of wax.
However if these cylinders were so excellent, why did the record industry change to flat platters? It’s easier to store more flat records in less space, Alyea explains.
Emile Berliner, inventor of your gramophone, introduced disc-shaped gramophone records pressed in celluloid and hard rubber around 1890, says Bill Klinger. Klinger is the chair of the Cylinder Subcommittee for ARSC and had encouraged the Library of Congress to get started on the metal soaps project Monroe is concentrating on.
In 1895, Berliner introduced discs depending on shellac, a resin secreted by female lac bugs, that would develop into a record industry staple for several years. Berliner’s discs used a mixture of shellac, clay and cotton fibers, plus some carbon black for color, Klinger says. Record makers manufactured countless discs by using this brittle and comparatively cheap material.
“Shellac records dominated the market from 1912 to 1952,” Klinger says. Several of these discs have become generally 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 withstand a record needle.
Edison and Aylsworth also stepped the chemistry of disc records using a material known as Condensite in 1912. “I believe that is quite possibly 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 comparable to Bakelite, that has been acknowledged 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 in order to avoid water vapor from forming throughout the high-temperature molding process, which deformed a disc’s surface, Klinger explains.
Edison was literally using a bunch of Condensite every day in 1914, however the material never supplanted shellac, largely because Edison’s superior product came with a substantially higher asking 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 give a quieter surface, store more music, and they 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 why vinyl came to dominate records. “It’s cheap, and it’s easily molded,” he says. Although he can’t speak to the particular composition of today’s vinyl, he does share some general insights to 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 content is 10 to 20% crystalline, Mathias says. Because of this, PVC has enough structural fortitude to assist a groove and endure a record needle without compromising smoothness.
With no additives, PVC is clear-ish, Mathias says, so record vinyl needs something like carbon black to give it its famous black finish.
Finally, if Mathias was choosing a polymer to use for records and funds was no object, he’d go along with polyimides. These materials have better thermal stability than vinyl, which is known to warp when left in cars on sunny days. Polyimides could 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 working with his vinyl supplier to locate a PVC composition that’s optimized for thicker, heavier records with deeper grooves to provide listeners a sturdier, high quality product. Although Salstrom could 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 how can listeners cope 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 learn about the chemistry that helps the transparent pvc compound 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 the hydrocarbon chain to get in touch it to some hydrophilic chain of repeating ethylene oxide units.
Finally, the 7 is actually a measure of the number of moles of ethylene oxide will be in the surfactant. The higher the number, the more 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 end result can be a mild, fast-rinsing surfactant that could get inside and out of grooves quickly, Cameron explains. The not so good news for vinyl audiophiles who may want to do this in your house is the fact that Dow typically doesn’t sell surfactants right to consumers. Their customers are usually companies who make cleaning products.