Wednesday, September 10, 2008

317X

I'm going to admit I don't actually know what 317X is. I do know that in the 1960s RCA Victor began marketing their vinyl LPs as having "Miracle Surface" due to a mysterious substance called 317X. The important quality that 317X imbued upon common vinyl to warrant the description "Miracle Surface" is that it repels dust. It is described sometimes as an "anti-static agent" and seen on many of the records branded as "Living Stereo."
"MIRACLE SURFACE" this record contains the new revolutionary anti-static ingredient, 317X, which repels dust, helps prevent surface noise, and helps insure faithful sound reproduction."
Searching for more information based on three numeric characters, and the most common character used to represent a variable is not fruitful. It will find you half a dozen blogs asking what 317X is. This is not helpful. Records do collect dust. They in fact can develop quite a static charge. There is a wide variety of anti-static tools, substances and gri-gri available for the home audiophile. There are even antistatic dust brushes. It's just a brush with a ground wire. I'm not going to pull a Mythbusters and test "ion guns." I just want to know what 317X is.Think about the three most common materials to be stacked on the turntable: Rubber, felt and PVC in that order. Spinning felt against PVC creates an electrophorus; a triboelectric charge is applied to the vinyl. On the Triboelectric series materials are rated from most positively charged to most negatively charged or "in order of the polarity of charge separation when they are touched with another object." PVC has a very strong negative charge. Rubber has a small negative charge, Felt happens to have a positive charge. It's there that electrons start to move around and create static.

Anti-static agents work by making a surface slightly conductive, or absorbing moisture form the air to become slightly conductive. The latter is called a humectant. There are also some conductive polymers out there but I think we can rule that out in 1960. What we're probably looking at is a humectant. So here are what we find:
behentrimonium chloride
cocamidopropyl betaine
aliphatic amines
esters of phosphoric acid
polyethylene glycol
polyols
Indium tin oxide

Polyethylene Glycol is very common, has a low toxicity, and is a flexible water-soluble polymer. It was used in anti-static varnishes, and it's not absorbed into the blood stream if accidentally ingested. (It does have a powerful laxative effect so don't eat it.) This is safe enough to smear on records. Most of the others on that list are not. It's my best guess. DO NOT EAT ANY OF THESE SUBSTANCES.

I've read reports that records treated with 317X in the 1960s still are static-free today. I have some doubts about that. Today there are spray on products available that are undoubtedly similar: Permostat, Zerostat, and Gruv Glide. But none of them work forever. These products do in fact work, and most of them are humectants, or contain a humectant ingredient. DO NOT EAT ANY OF THESE SUBSTANCES EITHER.