In the early days of the franchise one character from the first line up stood out above the rest, a unique look, a distinctive transformation and accessories. Here we look at that magnificent Transformer, Soundwave (who is superior).
Originally released as part of the Microchange line in Japan when it and Diaclone toys were imported into America as the original Transformers line, all things that drove on the ground were the opening lineup of Autobots and everything else were Decepticons. So the toy that became Soundwave became part of the opening line up for the Deceptions.
Soundwave Transformed into a cassette tape recorder and came packaged with a cassette robot Buzzsaw who turned from a tape into a yellow robotic bird. There were other cassette bots that were sold separately including a red version of Buzzsaw called Laserbeak, a black panther called Ravage as well as other notable ones like Rumble, Frenzy and Ratbat. Notably Soundwave’s head was used for the design of the Decepticon logo (now everyone is looking at the logo and Soundwave’s head going, aaahhh now I see it).
Now in media they never gave an initial explanation for how a big robot could turn into a small object even though Soundwave was not alone in this, Megatron himself turning into a gun. But fans began using the term mass displacement to explain such things and it was eventually incorporated as the canon term for such feats.
His original bio made him a smooth talking backstabbing opportunistic robot. But this didn’t really make it into any of his depictions. It was the animated series that gave him the role of the Decepticons head of espionage, using his cassette player form to sneak into secret areas or using his cassettes to spy on people (The first episode revealed his Cybertronian alt mode was a lamppost right next to Autobot HQ). He wound up being one of the main Decepticons in the cartoon and was one of the most successful and competent characters, as well as being genuinely loyal, a prime contrast to fellow higher up Decepticon Starscream.
Soundwave’s voice was given to us by Frank Welker, electronically modulated and given a somewhat robotic monotone. He stood out from his fellow Decepticons by speaking alone.
If you pay attention to the first season, the Decepticons were rather reliant on him. He was the one that produced the containers to make enerjon cubes (the power source they relied on to live) as well as his consistent success rate. Season 2 introduced his Autobot rival Blaster and in episodes like “Auto-Bop” had them face off in musical battles.
Soundwave was so popular as a toy he was still on the shelves when the Transformers movie was released so he survived the movie, his cassette fighting blasters brand new cassettes for the first time. The film also gave Soundwave his now iconic line “Soundwave Superior (insert name here) inferior” said in his iconic synthetic voice.
Soundwave made a few appearances in the 3rd season including another centerpiece episode which once more pitted him against Blaster but this time fighting over a musical weapon in ” Carnage in C Minor”. Soundwave made a final appearance in the American G1 series in “The Return of Optimus Prime Part 1” however he reappeared in the Japanese sequel series “The Headmasters” where he died in a final battle against Blaster (who also died) only for him to be rebuilt in a black recolour named Soundblaster of which his new toy could hold two cassette robots.
Now you would think that given his prominence in the cartoon you would think he would have a similar prominence in the comics… well no, his was a relatively minor role even depicted with a mouth instead of his mouth plate something based on a earlier design and had an odd purple colour. The UK comics managed to do more with him but nothing compared to his prominence in the cartoon.
Soundwave didn’t make any major appearances for quite some time after Generation 1. Though Beast Wars had a toy named Soundwave it never appeared in the cartoon and had no real relation to his iconic namesake. His inactive body did appear at the end of season 2 and in Beast Wars the model was used for a flashback showing the fall of Cybertron to Megatron. When the series returned to vehicles Soundwave was still absent for the majority of the Unicron trilogy. Most likely as while Megatron changing from a gun to a tank felt like a natural evolution of his transformation, there was no equivalent for Soundwave that didn’t seem wrong.
Soundwave’s next first real appearance was in Transformers Cybertron, where his alt mode was changed to a stealth bomber tying it into his espionage angle while having him partnered with Laserbeak who turned into a bomb. Here he talked a bit more DJ hip hop and came from the lost planet X on a mission of revenge against all worlds.
Soundwave’s next appearance was to have been in the first live action movie, however difficulties in keeping him to being who he is and his role in the film led this to be developed into both Blackout and Frenzie. Soundwave however did appear in Transformers Animated where once again partnered with Lazerbeak he turned into what has become his more go to alt mode, a large muscle car with a musical theme to it. This mode was also later recoloured to the Soundblaster colours and released with a new version of Ratbat who became a keytar.
Soundwave’s live action debut final came in ‘Revenge of the Fallen’ where much like Cyberverse, the espionage and intelligence element giving him an alt mode of a satellite before having a far larger role in ‘Dark of the Moon’ as the mastermind behind a conspiracy and disguise as Sam’s girlfriend’s car (something that made me smile as I did theorise that a good way to introduce him into the movies would have been as a dark parallel to Bumblebee’s role). However the latter half of that movie fell apart plot wise and he acted very out of character (even having the wrong voice) before being killed off like so many Decepticons (the movie people not realizing Decepticons aren’t meant to be throw away characters).
By the time of the aligned continuity Soundwave’s nature from the G1 cartoon had become the dominant idea behind him with his cassette robots now labeled as mini cons (a concept introduced in Transformers Armada). War and Fall of Cybertron gave him his musclecar form based on animated and remaining Megatron’s most trusted subordinate. He continued this role in Transformers Prime but was silent for most of it, merely using audio recordings of other peoples voices to relay information while having swapped his alt mode for a stealth drone alt mode. He was once again one of the major characters of the series and Megatron’s true second in command (even though others may claim that title) taking out those that questioned his master’s leadership or would betray him.
It’s IDW comics that did the most with Soundwave however – introducing us to his past where he was nearly driven insane by his ability to read minds before being taught to control them thanks to his new friends his cassette robots. Working under Senator Ratbat to use the growing Decepticon movement for Ratbat’s political ends before being won over by Megatron’s talk about equality (the Decepticons in IDWs continuity originally had noble ideals but lost sight of them over the course of the war) and betrayed him turning him into a cassette robot.
This Soundwave was sent to Earth in the 80s but got stuck in his tape player mode before Megatron’s arrival and he eventually got free and rejoined their ranks. After the war and after Megatron joined the Autobots ( go read the comics they are good, the original idw continuity there’s a new one ongoing) Soundwave took command of the Decepticons trying to keep it to their original goal and after an alliance with the ancient Cybertronian Galvatron (separate character from Megatron in this continuity) had to side with former enemies the Autobots to put a stop to him. He however remained a Decepticon and acting head of their number and still looked down on organic life as not real living things, until he read one of their minds and learning their brains having electrical impulses, realized their emotions were real and guilt ridden surrendered to human authorities. He remained head of the Decepticons and one of the main characters in the IDW comics until the very end, sacrificing himself to unite the souls of the living and the dead to combat Unicron with one final phrase “operation absolution“
Now as you can see there is a lot to talk about this character, toys of him in the modern day did try to recapture that idea of him turning into a piece of equipment like a tape player by updating it, sometimes to a MP3 and a laptop but must now seem to go the route of embracing his espionage and musical element. However the Titans return toy line did return him to a tape player/boom box look this was actually a redeco of Blastar) and allowed him to put cassette robots inside him to be launched.
I’ll be honest Soundwave is probably my favourite Decepticon. He’s someone that could, and arguably should be leading the Decepticons yet is shown to be a true believer in their cause. He’s not in it for power or glory he believes in what they are doing. He is basically the power behind the throne and someone the whole faction would struggle without. Sure a lot of the other characters end up getting the major moments but now they appear to have worked out how to use him in the modern age Soundwave is back to being a mainstay of the franchise featuring heavily in the most recent show Cyberverse and getting another new toy in the war for Cybertron Siege line which he can use cassette bots with.
But note I mentioned recolours and redecos a few times, Soundwave here often being recoloured black into Soundblaster and his Titans return to being a redeco, I suppose I should explain what those are next.