Soundwave was part of the first series of Transformers, back in 1984, but before that he had been issued in Takara's Microman range. The 1983 series of Microman was named Microchange, and specialised in robots that transformed into 1:1 scale objects - the same line also provided Transformers with the first batch of Decepticons cassettes, Megatron, Blaster, Perceptor, Reflector, Browning and the first series of Minibots (these were meant to represent toy cars, hence them being deformed). Soundwave was based on Cassette Man, with minor changes - a legend bearing this name was removed from the cassette door, while the non-functioning headphones and microphone were omitted.

The original release was packed in with Buzzsaw, a redeco of a Microchange cassette. I'll get this off my chest now - both Soundwave and his cassettes are mean to be Microcassette technology (i.e. Dictaphones), so aren't actually out of scale - the character transforming into a conventional tape-deck stereo is an invention of the various Transformers media spin-offs. When Transformers hit Japan in 1985, Soundwave was packed with Rumble. In 2003, he was reissued as part of Takara's Transformers Collection, this time packed with Condor (i.e. Laserbeak). More recently, the toy was issued (with Laserbeak and Ravage) as part of Transformers Classics, and then in 2008 for Takara's Encore series (just with Condor).

Soundwave's alt mode is, then, a decent replica of a Microcassette recorder. Of course, without speakers or a microphone, it's a redundant block. But it's a nicely decorated block with a few fun features. The colour scheme is marvellous, and the thing is covered with details - the opening cassette door (which, for those who don't know, will hold one of the cassettes in their alt mode), the buttons on either side, the stickers and details. The neatest touch is the removable battery cover - not only does it feature a clip, but inside are a pair of batteries that form the robot mode weapons. Neat touch. Annoyingly, though, Takara have used their 1985 mould of the toy, featuring an externally mounted hinge for the cassette door, mounted on the buttons - this involves the buttons sitting forward much more prominently, stuck on the front instead of poking through the blue plastic, and thus looking more like a single moulded block (which it is, but the pre-1985 version makes this less obvious).

Not much to report on Laserbeak's alt mode - one one side is a printed sticker that makes him a vaguely passable rendition of a Microcassette, though prominent join lines rather ruin the look.

Changing Soundwave to robot is a pretty easy process, nice and sensible. He's quite a large figure, measuring in at around 7" tall. The figure looks great, with only Perceptor giving him much competition from the Microchange toys. The head is perhaps a little small, but otherwise the proportions are fine, the classic blue/silver colour scheme gels beautifully, the head cast is great and the ample stickers keep him interesting. Articulation is very good for a toy this old, with movement at the neck, shoulders, elbows, hips and knees - though the joints on the legs only move out the wrong way, which is a shame.

Soundwave looks best performing a variation on his box art pose rather than 'flat', and while he isn't going to give a more modern figure much of a run in terms of articulation, there is a fair bit to do with him. The battery-based weapons are a neat touch (even if there's nowhere to go for the missile - which fires on this version, but was disabled on the original). The tape door still being fully accessible, of course, adds to the play value. The downside is the hip joints - over the years, these tend to loosen because of the weight of the upper body, and leave Soundwave leaning forward. This limits his use as a display piece, and makes buying a vintage version a bit of a lottery. It's also worth noting he looks miles better with a cassette in his chest, otherwise there's little to hide the hollow chest. I'm torn on whether a less transparent chest would have been a better move - he'd function better without tapes then, but it does look good when full.

What also helps is the cassettes, which basically give him a whole range of additional accessories. The tapes were generally a good bunch of toys, especially the Decepticon ones. Condor/Laserbeak is no exception - the issues with the cassette mode can be overlooked, as the piece is quite complex (and importantly works). While the bulk of the bird comes from the two accessories (which can't be stored anywhere), it is a very neat piece of design, very, very close to the iconic character's media appearances. The colour scheme compliments Soundwave nicely, and a combination of the light smaller figure with a good centre of gravity and solid joints for Soundwave mean he can perch on the larger Decepticon's arm perfectly, which looks fantastic.

Soundwave comes heartily recommended. Unlike most of the first series Decepticons, there's more than nostalgia to recommend him, the design having generally aged very well. He's beautifully made, and has a high amount of extra features considering he comes from a time when just transforming from something into a robot was considered enough for a toy. He works best with a cassette, or better yet two, and a decent-condition Soundwave can be considered an essential part of any 1980s Transformers collection.