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By Thomas Wheeler

Certainly one of the most distinctive and best-known characters in the Transformers universe is Soundwave. Dating back to Generation One, Soundwave was one of Megatron's most reliable and valuable Decepticons. He was also more than a little creepy. His more-mechanical-than-usual voice had a strange monotone with a strong reverb characteristic to it, that sounded far more robotic than any other Transformer. He tended to limit his sentences to a few choice words that got his point across, and his impassive face allowed him no real measure of expression. But beneath that, according to the files on the character, was a sinister backstabber who used his abilities as a communications specialist to spy on his fellow Decepticons and blackmail them as it suited his purposes.

That Soundwave was a communications specialist was evident in the fact that his transformation mode turned him into a tape player, and herein was Soundwave's other greatest value to the Decepticon cause -- he carried a small army of warriors within him, small but powerful -- and certainly nasty -- Decepticons that transformed into cassettes. These Transformers may have been small, but this was sometimes an advantage on Earth, as they could go places where most of the larger Transformers could not, and as small as they were by Cybertronian standards, they were still larger, and certainly more powerful, than the average human. Between Ravage, Rumble, Frenzy, Lazerbeak, and Buzzsaw, Soundwave had a considerable arsenal of fellow spies and warriors at his command.

Fast forward to TRANSFORMERS CYBERTRON. Soundwave is a popular enough character so that when it was announced that there would be a Soundwave in the Cybertron line, most fans eagerly awaited the results. But there was also some question as to what form Soundwave would take. Due to technological advances on Earth over the past twenty years, presenting a modern day Transformer as a cassette tape player would be a little like presenting a modern day Transformer as a rotary telephone. There's probably still some around, but it's not really in keeping with the technology of the Transformers, who tend to be pretty up to date.

So, what to do with Soundwave for his entry into the Cybertron universe? Soundwave takes to the skies as a stealth fighter! But that doesn't mean that he's lost some of his original characteristics.

Soundwave is part of the "Voyager Class" of Transformers within the Cybertron line, which means he's a boxed figure of pretty decent size, and a retail price of about $20. He's also reportedly been notoriously hard to find in some places, based on some message board postings, and I can corroborate that to a certain degree in that between the time I knew he existed, had saved up the money for him, and was actually able to find him, several weeks had elapsed, and I'm fairly sure I got lucky since it appeared that a fair supply of Transformers of all types had just shown up at the store where I found him. The next time I was in that store, there were no Soundwaves.

Soundwave makes a surprisingly menacing-looking stealth fighter. He's got the same coloration, for the most part, as his Generation One counterpart, a very dark blue, with some grey. He's got a bit of black on him, too, mostly in the cockpit area of the plane mode. The level of sculpted detail on the toy in plane mode is extremely impressive.

I've heard a few complaints that he doesn't really fit together in airplane mode as well as he should, and these comments may make a valid point. I can see a few areas where a piece is supposed to fit over a peg and it doesn't quite seem to want to reach. This seems to be especially true of the cockpit piece. I'm not sure why this is. As complex as Transformers are these days, I believe they are mostly designed on computers, by Takara, so you'd think this sort of thing wouldn't happen. But it's a fairly minor point in this particular instance, in my opinion.

Transforming Soundwave to robot form is not too difficult (then again, I've almost gotten used to doing Alternators...). Some of the more interesting aspects are that the lower torso and legs actually swing back from the aircraft, and are snapped into place by two pegs. It's important to make sure that these do snap into place. It will seem a little difficult. It will seem as though the parts don't quite want to come together as they should, but they will. The arms actually fold outwards from the front of the plane, and feature arm shields that were once the cockpit and the front of the aircraft. The second arm is pretty well locked into place, and the easiest way to free it is from underneath. It's important, and again, not the easiest thing in the world, to move the arms out to the side as far as possible, because the next step is to flip the remaining plane section over, and then the shoulder snap, and nicely snugly, into the sides of what is now the robot torso. Bring the robot head up and around and Soundwave is essentially complete.

There's a few minor issues. The arm shields or whatever they are do hinder the arm articulation a bit when Soundwave's arms are flat at his side. Once the arms are moved forward, however, the lower arm can be pivoted and there's now room for Soundwave to move at the elbows. Also, Soundwave's knee joints are VERY tight. They do move, and I'm glad for the articulation, but they don't move easily.

The end result is a very impressive robot that stands almost precisely 7" tall to the top of his head. Throw in the wings on his back, and that takes him up to about 8-3/4".

But the question now arises -- how much does he resemble his Generation One ancestor? Well -- quite a lot, actually, if you don't mind stretching the point just a bit. Obviously the original Soundwave could not transform into an aircraft. He was a tape player. And as such, he was a rather boxy, squared-off robot. That was as much a part of his robot form as it was his tape player form.

Cybertron Soundwave, by contrast, seems much more angular. Certainly he's a more detailed and more highly-articulated robot, but his plane mode, especially since his wings are still clearly visible in his robot form, seems to have more angles to him than the original Soundwave did. If the original Soundwave seemed composed of squares, then Cybertron Soundwave seems composed of triangles, geometrically speaking.

The head is a tribute to the original Soundwave without being a direct take from it. It's still pretty faceless. Instead of two eyes, there's a sort of "visor". There is no visible nose or mouth. The original Soundwave had two protrusions on the side of his head that almost looked like horns. Cybertron Soundwave has them as well. One nice feature about Cybertron Soundwave is that the visor-like eyes have a reflective panel in the back of the head, which if it picks up on a light source makes Soundwave's eyes seem to glow. And the color is a pinkish purple, much like the original Soundwave had. They even -- sort of -- carried over the red stripe that the original Soundwave had on his lower arms. Except on this one, the red stripes are on the shoulders.

But what about the cassette feature? Does Cybertron Soundwave have this? Well, in a way, yes, he does. Many Transformers these days come with smaller assistants called Mini-Cons. I suppose it could be argued that the cassettes that came with the original Soundwave (and for that matter, Blaster, an Autobot that also had cassette allies) were the precursors to the modern Mini-Cons. So it happens that Cybertron Soundwave comes with a Mini-Con, who just happens to be called Laserbeak, and much like his predecessor, takes on the form of a bird of prey.

This Laserbeak, in bird form, is amazingly articulated. He moves at the head, the wings, some of the feathers (!), the tail, the legs, and the feet. However, he doesn't turn into a cassette. Soundwave is not technically a tape player, after all. In what has to be one of the most complicated transformations for any Mini-Con ever created, Laserbeak actually transforms into a semi-cylindrical, but angular, bomb!

Here, though, is where the most direct comparison to the original Soundwave and Laserbeak comes into play, since Laserbeak does fit into a hatch that opens on Soundwave's chest! Technically, this is a bomb bay, not a cassette holder, but it still works on the same basic principles as the original Soundwave's cassette holder, and I happen to think that's pretty cool and rather impressive.

With the Transformers Cybertron concept, different robots, although they may be Autobots or Decepticons, consider different planets their home. There's a Jungle Planet, a Giant Planet, and so forth. Soundwave comes from Planet X. What's Planet X? Well, according to the text on the package:

Planet X does not exist. It is a code word linking those who claim no world as their home, a secret society of evil robots whose shadowy goals are shrouded behind a web of deceit. No one knows how many Planet X agents there are in the universe, or who they are. All that is known is that wherever one of these vile robots goes, ruin soon follows.

Sounds like the perfect sort of society for someone like Soundwave -- either one of them. Soundwave's personal profile, also from the package, reads as follows:

He is known by many names, though Soundwave is his most well-known one, and the one that inspires fear in Autobot and Decepticon alike. One of the mightiest, most straightforward warriors from Planet X, Soundwave is nonetheless a devastatingly subtle plotter. He prefers not to stab his victims in the back only because he enjoys seeing the look of betrayal in their eyes. Highly skilled in the techniques of espionage, he never enters battle without the knowledge he needs to win. His companion Laserbeak - equipped with a cloaking device - is able to infiltrate even the most well-guarded facilities.

And that, in its own way, certainly isn't very far removed from the original Soundwave, for that matter. Seems the Cybertron Soundwave certainly takes after his ancestor.

BONUS REVIEW - There is also a "Legends of Cybertron" Soundwave available, which I actually found before I found the standard one. These miniature versions of popular Transformers are a pretty cool line, and I own several of them, so I decided to pick up Soundwave.

Obviously this toy, standing not quite 3-3/4" including the wings, is too small to come with its own Laserbeak, but it's still very decent in its own right. Highly articulated for one of these Legends figures, Soundwave can move at the arms, legs, knees, and feet in robot mode.

His transformation is somewhat similar to his larger counterpart, although the smaller fins in the airplane mode are actually attached to his upper arms, and the cockpit section is attached to the wings in the back, not split between the lower arms. Honestly, the transformation is trickier than it looks, as certain parts need to be inserted in between others just so, and snapped into pegs. It's not easy. But Legends Soundwave is still worth having if you've got some of these smaller Transformers, and he's certainly one of the more interesting characters in the line.

There's not a lot of room on his card for much of a personality profile, but it does read, "SOUNDWAVE: Sinister Decepticon communications specialist and spy." If you're going to summarize Soundwave in one sentence, that'd be it.

Do I recommend Soundwave (the standard-sized one)? Yes, absolutely. The name is certainly a well-established one within the Transformers universe, and honestly is a name we haven't heard from for a while. The toy, although not a tape player, is nevertheless a superb tribute to the original Soundwave in its own way, and is a very impressive Transformer in its own right, as well. The toy is well-designed, has a good look, and these days it's certainly worth mentioning that those portions of the toy that are painted, are very neatly painted, including some very cool gold metal flake paint on Soundwave's lower face. As such, and on the whole, Transformers Cybertron SOUNDWAVE definitely gets my highest recommendation!