At Quality Record Pressings in Salina, Kan., the influx of orders for vinyl records has been so great the staff has been turning away requests since September. This resurgence in pvc pellet popularity blindsided Gary Salstrom, the company’s general manger. The business is merely 5 years old, but Salstrom has been making records to get a 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. Since many casual music consumers moved onto cassette tapes, compact discs, then digital downloads during the last several decades, a tiny contingent of listeners obsessed with audio quality supported a modest industry for certain musical styles on vinyl, notably classic jazz and orchestral recordings.
Now, seemingly everything within the musical world is getting 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 it also beat out revenue from ad-supported online music streaming, including the free version of Spotify.
While old-school audiophiles and 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 within their grooves as time passes. They hope that in doing so, they will likely increase their capability to create and preserve these records.
Eric B. Monroe, a chemist at the Library of Congress, is studying the composition of one of those materials, wax cylinders, to learn the direction they age and degrade. To assist with that, he is examining a story of litigation and skulduggery.
Although wax cylinders might appear to be a primitive storage medium, these people were a revelation back then. Edison invented the phonograph in 1877 using cylinders wrapped in tinfoil, but he shelved the project to be effective in the lightbulb, as outlined by sources at 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 together with chemist Jonas Aylsworth, Edison soon created a superior brown wax for recording cylinders.
“From a commercial viewpoint, the content 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 a distinctive industrial viewpoint of the material.
“It’s rather minimalist. It’s just suitable for which it must be,” he says. “It’s not overengineered.” There was clearly one looming issue with the beautiful 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. Although the lawsuit didn’t come until after Edison and Aylsworth introduced a whole new and improved black wax.
To record sound into brown wax cylinders, each one had to be individually grooved with a cutting stylus. Although the black wax could possibly be cast into grooved molds, permitting mass manufacture of records.
Unfortunately for Edison and Aylsworth, the black wax was actually a direct chemical descendant of the brown wax that legally belonged to American Graphophone, so American Graphophone sued Edison’s National Phonograph Co. Fortunately to the defendants, Aylsworth’s lab notebooks demonstrated that Team Edison had, in fact, developed the brown wax first. Companies eventually settled out from court.
Monroe is in a position to study legal depositions in the suit and Aylsworth’s notebooks on account of the Thomas A. Edison Papers Project at Rutgers University, which can be endeavoring to make greater than 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 greater idea of the decisions behind the materials’ chemical design. As an illustration, in 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 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 his notebook. But after several days, the outer lining showed indications of crystallization and records created using it started sounding scratchy. So Aylsworth added aluminum towards the mix and discovered the correct blend of “the good, the negative, as well as the necessary” features of all ingredients, Monroe explains.
The combination of stearic acid and palmitic is soft, but way too much of it can make 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 while adding some 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 a majority of these cylinders started sweating when summertime rolled around-they exuded moisture trapped from the 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 essential waterproofing element.
Monroe is performing chemical analyses on collection pieces and his synthesized samples so that the materials are identical and that the conclusions he draws from testing his materials are legit. As an illustration, he is able to look into 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 first results from these analyses recently in a conference hosted with the Association for Recorded Sound Collections, or ARSC. Although his first couple of attempts to make brown wax were too crystalline-his stearic acid was too pure and had no palmitic acid in it-he’s now making substances which are almost just like Edison’s.
His experiments also suggest that these metal soaps expand and contract considerably with changing temperatures. Institutions that preserve wax cylinders, such as 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 enable the cylinders to warm gradually, Monroe says. This will minimize the worries on the wax and reduce the probability that this will fracture, he adds.
The similarity in between the original brown wax and Monroe’s brown wax also shows that the content degrades very slowly, which is great news for anyone such as Peter Alyea, Monroe’s colleague on the Library of Congress.
Alyea wishes to recover the information held in the cylinders’ grooves without playing them. To do this he captures and analyzes microphotographs in the grooves, a technique 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 to the 1960s. Anthropologists also brought the wax in to 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 a material that generally 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 modifications he and Aylsworth created 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 generated his second-generation moldable black wax and finally to Blue Amberol Records, that were cylinders created using blue celluloid plastic instead of wax.
However if these cylinders were so excellent, 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 of the gramophone, introduced disc-shaped gramophone records pressed in celluloid and hard rubber around 1890, says Bill Klinger. Klinger may be the chair of the Cylinder Subcommittee for ARSC and had encouraged the Library of Congress to start the metal soaps project Monroe is concentrating on.
In 1895, Berliner introduced discs based on shellac, a resin secreted by female lac bugs, that will become a record industry staple for many years. Berliner’s discs used a mixture of shellac, clay and cotton fibers, plus some 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 industry from 1912 to 1952,” Klinger says. Many of these discs are referred to as 78s because of the playback speed of 78 revolutions-per-minute, give or take a few rpm.
PVC has enough structural fortitude to assist a groove and withstand an archive needle.
Edison and Aylsworth also stepped up the chemistry of disc records with a material known as Condensite in 1912. “I assume that is essentially the most impressive chemistry of 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 that had been similar to Bakelite, that has been recognized as the world’s first synthetic plastic by 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 through 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 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 give a quieter surface, store more music, and therefore are much less brittle than shellac discs, Klinger says.
Lon J. Mathias, a polymer chemist and professor emeritus in the University of Southern Mississippi, offers another reason why why vinyl came to dominate records. “It’s cheap, and it’s easily molded,” he says. Although he can’t talk with the precise composition of today’s vinyl, he does share some general insights to the plastic.
PVC is usually amorphous, but from 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. For that reason, PVC has enough structural fortitude to aid a groove and stand up to an archive needle without compromising smoothness.
Without the additives, PVC is clear-ish, Mathias says, so record vinyl needs such as carbon black allow it its famous black finish.
Finally, if Mathias was choosing a polymer for records and money 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 give a far more frictionless surface, Mathias adds.
But chemists will still be tweaking and improving vinyl’s formulation, says Salstrom of Quality Record Pressings. He’s working with his vinyl supplier to identify a PVC composition that’s optimized for thicker, heavier records with deeper grooves to provide listeners a sturdier, top quality product. Although Salstrom could be amazed at the resurgence in vinyl, he’s not planning to give anyone any good reasons to stop listening.
A soft brush can usually handle any dust that settles over a vinyl record. But how can listeners take care of more tenacious grime and dirt?
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 clear pvc granule go into-and 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 into a hydrophilic chain of repeating ethylene oxide units.
Finally, the 7 is a way of measuring just how many moles of ethylene oxide happen to be in the surfactant. The greater 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 together with water.
The end result can be a mild, fast-rinsing surfactant that may get inside and out of grooves quickly, Cameron explains. The negative news for vinyl audiophiles who may want to use this in the home is Dow typically doesn’t sell surfactants instantly to consumers. Their customers are generally companies who make cleaning products.