At Quality Record Pressings in Salina, Kan., the influx of orders for vinyl records is so excellent the staff continues to be turning away requests since September. This resurgence in pvc granule popularity blindsided Gary Salstrom, the company’s general manger. The company is definitely five years old, but Salstrom continues to be 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 need to hear more genres on vinyl. As many casual music consumers moved onto cassette tapes, compact discs, and then digital downloads over the past several decades, a little contingent of listeners enthusiastic about audio quality supported a modest marketplace for certain musical styles on vinyl, notably classic jazz and orchestral recordings.
Now, seemingly the rest in the musical world is to get pressed as well. The Recording Industry Association of America reported that vinyl record sales in 2015 exceeded $400 million inside the Usa 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 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 within their grooves with time. They hope that in doing so, they will likely boost their capability to create and preserve these records.
Eric B. Monroe, a chemist on the Library of Congress, is studying the composition of some of those materials, wax cylinders, to determine the direction they age and degrade. To help you with the, he or she is examining a narrative of litigation and skulduggery.
Although wax cylinders may seem like a primitive storage medium, these folks were a revelation back then. Edison invented the phonograph in 1877 using cylinders covered with tinfoil, but he shelved the project to operate on the lightbulb, as outlined by sources in 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 with chemist Jonas Aylsworth, Edison soon designed a superior brown wax for recording cylinders.
“From a commercial viewpoint, the information is beautiful,” Monroe says. He started taking care of this history project in September but, before that, was working in the specialty chemical firm Milliken & Co., giving him a distinctive industrial viewpoint of the material.
“It’s rather minimalist. It’s just suitable for the purpose it must be,” he says. “It’s not overengineered.” There is one looming problem 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 around the brown wax in 1898. However 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 would have to be individually grooved having a cutting stylus. But the black wax could possibly be cast into grooved molds, allowing for mass manufacture of records.
Unfortunately for Edison and Aylsworth, the black wax was really 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 the defendants, Aylsworth’s lab notebooks revealed that Team Edison had, the truth is, developed the brown wax first. The companies eventually settled away from court.
Monroe is able to 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.
Utilizing these documents, Monroe is tracking how Aylsworth with his fantastic colleagues developed waxes and gaining an improved understanding of the decisions behind the materials’ chemical design. For example, inside an early experiment, Aylsworth produced a soap using sodium hydroxide and industrial stearic acid. At that time, industrial-grade stearic acid was actually 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 their notebook. But after several days, the surface showed signs of crystallization and records created using it started sounding scratchy. So Aylsworth added aluminum towards the mix and found the correct combination of “the good, the bad, along with the necessary” features of all ingredients, Monroe explains.
This mixture of stearic acid and palmitic is soft, but a lot of it makes for any 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 whilst adding additional toughness.
In reality, 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 a vital waterproofing element.
Monroe is performing chemical analyses on both collection pieces and his awesome synthesized samples to be sure the materials are identical and that the conclusions he draws from testing his materials are legit. As an example, he can check the organic content of a wax using techniques like mass spectrometry and identify the metals inside a sample with X-ray fluorescence.
Monroe revealed the 1st is a result of these analyses last month with a conference hosted from 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 and had no palmitic acid within it-he’s now making substances that happen to be almost identical to Edison’s.
His experiments also suggest that these metal soaps expand and contract considerably 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 instantly to room temperature, which is the common current practice, preservationists should allow the cylinders to warm gradually, Monroe says. This may minimize the strain on the wax and reduce the probability that it will fracture, he adds.
The similarity between your original brown wax and Monroe’s brown wax also suggests that the content degrades very slowly, which is great news for individuals for example Peter Alyea, Monroe’s colleague in the Library of Congress.
Alyea wishes to recover the data stored 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 perfect for recording one-off sessions, Alyea says. Business folks could capture dictations using wax and did so up in the 1960s. Anthropologists also brought the wax in 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 withstand time-when stored and handled properly-might appear to be a stroke of fortune, but it’s less than surprising taking into consideration 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 and also the corresponding advances in formulations led to his second-generation moldable black wax and eventually to Blue Amberol Records, that had been cylinders made using blue celluloid plastic rather than wax.
However, if these cylinders were so great, why did the record industry move to flat platters? It’s easier 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 will be the chair of your Cylinder Subcommittee for ARSC and had encouraged the Library of Congress to get started on the metal soaps project Monroe is working on.
In 1895, Berliner introduced discs depending on shellac, a resin secreted by female lac bugs, that will develop into a record industry staple for years. Berliner’s discs used a blend of shellac, clay and cotton fibers, and several carbon black for color, Klinger says. Record makers manufactured an incredible number of discs employing this brittle and relatively inexpensive material.
“Shellac records dominated the business from 1912 to 1952,” Klinger says. Most of these discs have become generally known as 78s due to 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 up the chemistry of disc records using a material referred to as Condensite in 1912. “I feel that is quite possibly 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 which had been similar to Bakelite, which was acknowledged 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 in order to avoid water vapor from forming through the high-temperature molding process, which deformed a disc’s surface, Klinger explains.
Edison was literally using a lot of Condensite per day in 1914, nevertheless the material never supplanted shellac, largely because Edison’s superior product was included 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 within the music industry were numbered. Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) records offer a quieter surface, store more music, and so 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 one other reason why vinyl stumbled on dominate records. “It’s cheap, and it’s easily molded,” he says. Although he can’t talk to the particular composition of today’s vinyl, he does share some general insights in to the plastic.
PVC is mainly 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 an archive needle without compromising smoothness.
With no additives, PVC is clear-ish, Mathias says, so record vinyl needs something similar to carbon black allow it its famous black finish.
Finally, if Mathias was choosing a polymer to use for records and money was no object, he’d opt for polyimides. These materials have better thermal stability than vinyl, which was known 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 are still tweaking and improving vinyl’s formulation, says Salstrom of Quality Record Pressings. He’s utilizing 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 usually can handle any dust that settles on a vinyl record. But just how can listeners handle more tenacious dirt and grime?
The Library of Congress shares a recipe for the 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 can help the pvc compound go into-and away 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 the hydrocarbon chain for connecting it into a hydrophilic chain of repeating ethylene oxide units.
Finally, the 7 is a way of measuring the number of moles of ethylene oxide happen to be in the surfactant. The higher the number, the better 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 combined with water.
The result is really a mild, fast-rinsing surfactant that could get in and out of grooves quickly, Cameron explains. The negative news for vinyl audiophiles who may want to do this in your own home is the fact that Dow typically doesn’t sell surfactants directly to consumers. Their potential customers are often companies who make cleaning products.