At Quality Record Pressings in Salina, Kan., the influx of orders for vinyl records is so great that this staff has become turning away requests since September. This resurgence in pvc compound popularity blindsided Gary Salstrom, the company’s general manger. The corporation is just five years old, but Salstrom continues to be making records to get a living since 1979.
“I can’t tell you how surprised I am,” he says.
Listeners aren’t just demanding more records; they need to hear more genres on vinyl. Because so many casual music consumers moved onto cassette tapes, compact discs, after which digital downloads during the last several decades, a small contingent of listeners obsessive about audio quality supported a modest industry for certain musical styles on vinyl, notably classic jazz and orchestral recordings.
Now, seemingly anything else in the musical world is to get 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, plus it beat out revenue from ad-supported online music streaming, like the free version of Spotify.
While old-school audiophiles plus a new wave of record collectors are supporting vinyl’s second coming, scientists are looking at the chemistry of materials that carry and also have carried sounds within their grooves with time. They hope that by doing this, they may boost their capability to create and preserve these records.
Eric B. Monroe, a chemist with the Library of Congress, is studying the composition of one of those materials, wax cylinders, to determine the way that they age and degrade. To help with that, he is examining a narrative of litigation and skulduggery.
Although wax cylinders might appear to be a primitive storage medium, these were a revelation back then. Edison invented the phonograph in 1877 using cylinders wrapped in tinfoil, but he shelved the project to be effective around the lightbulb, based on sources with the Library of Congress.
But Edison was lured back into the audio game after Alexander Graham Bell and his Volta Laboratory had created wax cylinders. Utilizing chemist Jonas Aylsworth, Edison soon developed a superior brown wax for recording cylinders.
“From a commercial viewpoint, the material is beautiful,” Monroe says. He started working on this history project in September but, before that, was working at the specialty chemical firm Milliken & Co., giving him a distinctive industrial viewpoint from the material.
“It’s rather minimalist. It’s just adequate for what it needs to be,” he says. “It’s not overengineered.” There was clearly one looming downside to 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 about 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, every one needed to be individually grooved having a cutting stylus. Nevertheless the black wax might be cast into grooved molds, permitting mass creation of records.
Unfortunately for Edison and Aylsworth, the black wax was actually 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 your defendants, Aylsworth’s lab notebooks indicated that Team Edison had, in fact, developed the brown wax first. The companies eventually settled away from court.
Monroe has become able to study legal depositions through the suit and Aylsworth’s notebooks due to the Thomas A. Edison Papers Project at Rutgers University, which can be working to make more than 5 million pages of documents relevant to Edison publicly accessible.
By using these documents, Monroe is tracking how Aylsworth and his awesome colleagues developed waxes and gaining a much better comprehension of the decisions behind the materials’ chemical design. As an example, in a early experiment, Aylsworth created a soap using sodium hydroxide and industrial stearic acid. At the time, industrial-grade stearic acid was a roughly 1:1 mix 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 the notebook. But after a couple of days, the outer lining showed signs and symptoms of crystallization and records made using it started sounding scratchy. So Aylsworth added aluminum for the mix and located the right mixture of “the good, the unhealthy, as well as the necessary” features of all the ingredients, Monroe explains.
The combination of stearic acid and palmitic is soft, but way too much of it will make for a weak wax. Adding sodium stearate adds some toughness, but it’s also responsible for the crystallization problem. The soft pvc granule prevents the sodium stearate from crystallizing whilst adding some extra toughness.
The truth is, this wax was a little 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 your humid air-and were recalled. Aylsworth then swapped out of 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 continues to be performing chemical analyses for both collection pieces and his awesome synthesized samples to guarantee the materials are the same and therefore the conclusions he draws from testing his materials are legit. As an example, he can examine the organic content of the wax using techniques including mass spectrometry and identify the metals within a sample with X-ray fluorescence.
Monroe revealed the initial results from these analyses recently at the conference hosted by the Association for Recorded Sound Collections, or ARSC. Although his first couple of 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 which can be almost just like Edison’s.
His experiments also claim 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. As opposed to bringing the cylinders from cold storage instantly to room temperature, the common current practice, preservationists should let the cylinders to warm gradually, Monroe says. This will likely minimize the stress on the wax and reduce the probability it will fracture, he adds.
The similarity involving the original brown wax and Monroe’s brown wax also suggests that the material degrades very slowly, that is great news for anyone like Peter Alyea, Monroe’s colleague at the Library of Congress.
Alyea desires to recover the information stored in the cylinders’ grooves without playing them. To do so he captures and analyzes microphotographs of the grooves, a strategy 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 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 our collection,” Alyea says. “They’re basically invaluable.” Having those recordings captured inside a material that seems to withstand time-when stored and handled properly-may seem like a stroke of fortune, but it’s not so surprising thinking about the material’s progenitor.
“Edison was the engineer’s engineer,” Alyea says. The adjustments he and Aylsworth made 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 resulted in his second-generation moldable black wax and in the end to Blue Amberol Records, that had been cylinders created using blue celluloid plastic as opposed to wax.
But when 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 of the gramophone, introduced disc-shaped gramophone records pressed in celluloid and hard rubber around 1890, says Bill Klinger. Klinger is definitely the chair of the Cylinder Subcommittee for ARSC and had encouraged the Library of Congress to begin the metal soaps project Monroe is working on.
In 1895, Berliner introduced discs according to shellac, a resin secreted by female lac bugs, that could be a record industry staple for many years. Berliner’s discs used an assortment of shellac, clay and cotton fibers, and several carbon black for color, Klinger says. Record makers manufactured numerous discs by using this brittle and relatively inexpensive material.
“Shellac records dominated the industry from 1912 to 1952,” Klinger says. Most of these discs have become known as 78s because of the playback speed of 78 revolutions-per-minute, give or have a few rpm.
PVC has enough structural fortitude to back up a groove and resist a record needle.
Edison and Aylsworth also stepped within the chemistry of disc records using a material called 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 comparable to Bakelite, which had been defined 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 to prevent 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 each day in 1914, although the material never supplanted shellac, largely because Edison’s superior product was included 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 inside the music industry were numbered. Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) records offer a quieter surface, store more music, and are a lot less brittle than shellac discs, Klinger says.
Lon J. Mathias, a polymer chemist and professor emeritus at the University of Southern Mississippi, offers another reason why for 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 to the plastic.
PVC is mainly amorphous, but by a happy accident of 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 aid a groove and endure a record needle without compromising smoothness.
With no additives, PVC is clear-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 go along with polyimides. These materials have better thermal stability than vinyl, which has been proven to warp when left in cars on sunny days. Polyimides may also reproduce grooves better and give a far more frictionless surface, Mathias adds.
But chemists are still tweaking and improving vinyl’s formulation, says Salstrom of Quality Record Pressings. He’s working together with his vinyl supplier to discover a PVC composition that’s optimized for thicker, heavier records with deeper grooves to provide listeners a sturdier, better quality product. Although Salstrom might be surprised by the resurgence in vinyl, he’s not looking to give anyone any top reasons to stop listening.
A soft brush usually can handle any dust that settles on the vinyl record. So how can listeners take care of 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 discover the chemistry which helps the transparent pvc compound get into-and out 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 in the hydrocarbon chain for connecting it to some hydrophilic chain of repeating ethylene oxide units.
Finally, the 7 can be a measure of the number of moles of ethylene oxide are in the surfactant. The higher the number, the better 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 result can be a mild, fast-rinsing surfactant that could get inside and outside of grooves quickly, Cameron explains. The negative news for vinyl audiophiles who might want to try this in the home is Dow typically doesn’t sell surfactants right to consumers. Their clientele are often companies who make cleaning products.