Dungeon Reviews: Soundwave & Buzzsaw (1984)

Together with Megatron and Starscream, Soundwave completes the trifecta of iconic Decepticons.

“Cries and screams are music to my ears.” / “My bite is worse than my bark.”

To many kids of the 1980s, this set was a gateway into a world transformed. This review looks at the 2019 reissue of the 1984 original.

Alternate Mode

Front view

Soundwave’s alternate mode is a microcassette recorder. It’s easy to forget that we once needed specialized equipment to take music with us. Sony Walkmen and the like were hot commodities in the 80s, so it would have been cool to have a toy that even resembled one.

Many small molded details add to the authenticity of the recorder mode, like right and left speakers and face buttons. Foil stickers add more details. I’ve never quite been sure what the “010” sticker was supposed to indicate – maybe someone who had a similar tape recorder can tell me!

Also, I replaced the foil stickers included with this release with a higher quality set from ToyHax.

Right side view

The right side of the recorder mode includes a chrome wheel to simulate a volume adjuster or tuner. It spins freely, but doesn’t activate any mechanism.

Left side view

The left side has a chrome switch, maybe to change tape speed or change from AM to FM. Again, it moves freely, but doesn’t activate any feature.

Back view

Some of Soundwave’s robot mode details are visible on the back of the recorder mode. But it’s notable that among tape recorder Soundwaves, the G1 figure is one of the cleanest. Even the Masterpiece figure looks pretty messy from the back.

The back of the recorder has a clip so you can attach Soundwave to your belt and pretend you’re sneaking him into the Autobot base.

Tape Ejection Gimmick

Ejection button

The chrome button on top of the tape deck mode activates the front door.

Door open

It swings open with a satisfying click. The space inside can fit any one G1 microcassette figure. There are some great interior details molded inside the compartment, but I didn’t take pictures of them.

Buzzsaw – Cassette Mode

Front view

The microcassette figures are all sized accurately to a real microcassette (about 2 inches by 1 inch). The cassette details are all achieved by way of a set of foil stickers.

Nearly all of the G1 microcassettes have the phrase “metal position” on them somewhere, which I’ve taken to represent a fictional brand name. Surprisingly I haven’t seen it referenced in much Transformers fiction.

Rear view

Most of Buzzsaw’s robot mode details are visible on the backside of the cassette mode.

Battery Compartment Gimmick

Batteries removed

The belt clip can slide down to reveal two cylindrical “batteries” inside of the back of the recorder, each about the size of a real AA battery. This is not only just a fun, realistic detail, but also plays into one of Soundwave’s other gimmicks that we’ll get into later.

The Hasbro instructions suggested placing the striped red stickers on the front of the player mode, but they are actually intended for the batteries as shown.

As a final note on the alternate mode: in the Takara Microchange toyline, Soundwave was originally designed as “Cassette Man,” a robotic ally for Microman. Cassette Man came with a microphone headset that could plug into the player mode, with the idea that you would issue commands to Cassette Man through the mic.

Far from the villainous Decepticon he became in Transformers, the gentle Cassette Man was intended to function as an energy recharging base for the microcassette robots and other Microman allies.

Robot Mode

Front view

In robot mode, Soundwave stands about seven inches tall, head-to-head with Megatron and taller than most of the other first-year Cybertronians.

The feet are die-cast metal. The weight of the large chest, combined with the wear on the hip joints from many transformations, often causes vintage Soundwave figures to lean forward in robot mode.

Rear view
Head close-up

The back of Soundwave’s head is flattened to allow it to fold flush with the top of the alternate mode, but the front is sculpted well and features silver and yellow paint applications.

Soundwave’s head was used as the basis for the Decepticon emblem. I figured this out in childhood and ascribed significance to it – perhaps Soundwave was originally intended to be the Decepticon leader? Or perhaps he was deposed of this role by Megatron?

Regardless, the connection has never been explored in any official fiction, to my knowledge.

Side view

Even without his accessories attached, Soundwave strikes an imposing presence.

Accessories

Parts loadout

Soundwave comes with the aforementioned batteries and three chrome rockets.

Rifle mode

One of the batteries converts into Soundwave’s rocket launcher. The chrome missiles can fit into the end of the rifle to complete its appearance. A button on the top of the rifle releases the missile, but all of the Hasbro versions of the launcher had the springs weakened or removed.

Accessories attached

The launcher fits into either of Soundwave’s fists; the other battery fits into a hole on Soundwave’s shoulder to become his “concussion blaster gun.” The end of the blaster is sculpted with a little ring of missiles, though they are not painted.

Both accessories feature 5mm posts, so they are interchangeable between the fists and shoulder.

Articulation

Action pose

Soundwave is quite articulated for a Transformer of his vintage, mostly thanks to his transformation joints. He can move at the shoulders, elbows, and neck. The hips rotate out, and can also move forward a bit, but doing this too much risks wearing the joint and causing the “lean” that many older Soundwaves exhibit.

Buzzsaw – Robot mode

Robot mode

Buzzsaw’s transformation is a matter of just a few moving parts. The condor head slides forward, the wings swing out, and the feet rotate down.

The top of his condor mode is die-cast metal. He does have two little blaster cannons sculpted onto the front of this mode, but he feels a bit incomplete without his accessories.

With engines added

Buzzsaw comes with two chrome attachments that add two more blasters and a pair of large thrusters with fins and intake vents. The two pieces ingeniously peg into the tape spool holes, a feature shared among all G1 cassette figures.

For the recent reissue versions of Buzzsaw, the chrome blasters were shortened compared to the original release.

This version has gold paint applications for the eyes, but I believe these were stickers on the original release.

Buzzsaw – Articulation

Roosting

Buzzsaw has double joints at the base of his wings and in his neck, allowing for some surprisingly convincing bird-like poses. It’s easy to make him look like he’s perching on Megatron’s shoulder or dive-bombing Omega Supreme.

Version Comparisons

With original 1984 Soundwave

Compared to the original Soundwave, this release sports a slightly darker shade of blue. The sculpting all seems very defined, not exhibiting any of the mold degradation that plagues some frequently reissued 80s toys.

The biggest difference between these two are the construction of the tape door: the 1984 version has its hinge inside the lower torso, while the reissues relocated it to the outside of the torso. This resulted in a complete resculpt of the face buttons. The change was done for structural reasons and makes the door less likely to break.

With original 1984 Buzzsaw

Here you can see the longer cannons present on the original Buzzsaw. Otherwise the two figures are nearly identical.

Final Thoughts

Cassette family

As a kid I didn’t have a G1 Soundwave…but I did have a (possibly unofficial) Taiwanese release of the Microchange Cassette Man figure, complete with the headset and “CASSETTE MAN” logo molded onto the door.

That version included a Ravage (“Jaguar”) figure instead of Buzzsaw, and even though I knew they weren’t official Transformers, I recognized the character from the cartoon and comics and considered him a cherished part of my collection.

Soundwave’s G1 design, like Megatron’s, has caused toy designer headaches ever since people stopped using cassettes. A tank, car, or jet are evergreen concepts, but a cassette player belongs firmly in the 1980s. Soundwave has been redesigned into everything from a minivan to a Mercedes to an MP3 player, and none of it ever seems to quite recapture the magic of the original concept.

With other Soundwaves

Most subsequent cassette player versions of Soundwave have similarly failed to recapture the original’s magic too, in my opinion. Only the pictured Masterpiece version feels to me like a true successor to the 1984 toy, and even it has a few flaws not present on the original.

That’s why I think Soundwave is unique among G1 figures. If someone were to ask me what toy to buy to experience the spirit of 1980s Transformers toys, this is the one I’d recommend. It tends to be the one everyone remembers, and that’s for good reason.

4 thoughts on “Dungeon Reviews: Soundwave & Buzzsaw (1984)”

  1. Forever one of my obsessions! Like many transformers early on, I ran into Soundwave first in my babysitter’s collection. Naturally, Soundwave made an impression. My dad had a recorder for work, so those little tapes were usually all around the computer room at home. Granted, his recorder looked nothing like Soundwave, but I got the gist. For many years, I assumed he was an actual working recorder!

    To this day I still haven’t actually handled a vintage or remake version since I was a little kid, but I’ve got many other Soundwaves!

    Like

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