Which module do I want: BIA vs Plonk
A lot of people ask us the simple question: Which module do I want? So we’re starting a series on it! Today, we’re talking about two modules people think of as universal drum modules: our Basimilus Iteritas Alter and the Intellijel Plonk. They’re both small (10 and 12 HP respectively) digital voices that are, yes, great for percussion. But both do a host of other things, too. Today we’ll discuss their similarities and differences, both in use and in features, and play some patches.
First, let’s get the question of bias out of the way. Are we? Of course we are. We think everyone should have a BIA! But we’re also synth nerds ourselves and we all use tons of modules from other companies. And we think you should, too! It is modular, after all. The mix-and-match-ability is what makes this such a great community. And the reality is that if you ask us which one of these you should get, we’re going to tell you both. I have my Plonk sitting right next to the BIA in the percussion section of my rack, and they’re a really fun combo to use together. However, if you don’t have the space or budget to get both right now, you probably want to know more. Let’s start with some basic hardware comparisons and talk about workflow, then move on to sound.
BIA vs. Plonk: a comparison
Basimilus Iteritas Alter and Plonk: the details
The parameter shaping differs
These two modules have a couple of key differences that make their workflows very different. The BIA is a one-knob-per-function module, with one-CV-per-parameter. That means that if you want to change a parameter, you turn its dedicated knob, and if you want to modulate a parameter, you patch something into its dedicated CV input. It has 8 parameters, not including pitch. The Plonk, however, has almost two dozen parameters. You edit most of these parameters with a single encoder by scrolling through two sets of tonal menus using an encoder, and edit them with that same encoder. Creating a sound requires a bit of planning, as you can’t move multiple parameters at once with the encoder, but you have a lot of different ways you can change a sound. It’s a different way of working! It also has 4 CV inputs, plus a velocity input that can be used for a few different types of dynamics. In terms of speed of use, I can set up a kick drum on my BIA in a matter of seconds (literally, I timed myself and it took 3.8 seconds). It’s quite immediate! Creating one from scratch on the Plonk takes some time, but Plonk also has presets, so if you’re just trying to find a sound rather than create a sound it can be pretty fast, assuming you have a preset you like. And that takes us to our next subject…
The difference in parameters creates a very different workflow
There’s a big difference we haven’t talked about yet: Plonk has presets. BIA does not. Some people will like this, some people will not. I personally am not a huge fan of using presets in most cases, as I like to create sounds as I patch most of the time. I did, however, write a whole post about using the Mimetic Digitalis as a sort of preset manager for the BIA, so I’m not wholly opposed to them! And of course, many people use things like the Voltage Block, too, to create “presets” using external voltage.
One cool thing is that you can create some presets on the Plonk and then configure one of the CV inputs to switch presets on the fly. You can’t, however, dynamically move all the parameters on the Plonk with CV like you can the BIA. I love using my NerdSeq with the BIA because I can patch CV into every jack and create new sounds on the fly from my sequencer. On the Plonk, it takes more planning, because you have to create sounds in advance, save them, and configure the CV input to scroll through those presets. Again, different workflows! As a for instance, if you’re making a live case and want to do a bit of prep work beforehand, it might be handy to be able to load up a preset and know what it will sound like. You may also want to have more immediately jammable parameters, which is where BIA tends to shine.
Plonk does have some cool “jammable” options, though: there are two knobs on the front that have a range and destination you can set as you like. These can be CV’d, and there’s a separate assignable CV input for any one parameter on Plonk, too. There’s also the Decay parameter, which has a dedicated CV input and knob. If you want CV control, you’ve got different options on both.
Plonk offers overlapping polyphony while the BIA, like most of Eurorack, is monophonic
This is the last real hardware difference: the Plonk has two voices of polyphony, and the BIA is monophonic. The thing is, Plonk only has one trigger input and one pitch input, so you can only really have two sounds overlap, you can’t play two simultaneously-starting notes. In my experience, this doesn’t make a huge difference in most cases.
The core synthesis is different
We’ve talked a lot about workflow, but let’s talk about the most important feature comparison: how they sound! The Plonk is a physical modelling voice, and the BIA is an additive/FM voice. Obviously, you’ll get different results from these, since they’re different synthesis types. We’ll go through some sound examples in a second, but there are some key things to keep in mind here. They’re both really versatile voices that will get you basses, leads, pops, clicks, percussion, and everything else you could imagine. Plonk has a couple of distortion options, but they’re not as extreme as what BIA can do with the Fold knob. BIA’s parameters are also generally scaled to be less intense to the left and more intense to the right, which is great for jamming live and creating movement in a patch. Plonk’s parameters tend to just create different sounds depending on where you are in a parameter’s range. It’s great for sound design, but I find it less immediately jammable.
Let’s take a listen to some sounds though! First up: some kicks.
Here’s the BIA doing a normal kick:
Here’s that same kick but with a generous amount of Fold and Morph:
And here’s a Plonk kick. This is one I made and use pretty often.
Here’s that same kick, but with a bunch of Plonk’s saturation.
I find it easier to make aggressive sounds with BIA than with Plonk..
Let’s do the same thing with some snares! Here’s a basic BIA snare:
And here’s a different one:
And here’s a Plonk snare.
Now, percussion is great, but that’s obviously not all that these voices can do. Let’s try a couple different melodic plucks and melodies from BIA:
And here are some from Plonk:
BIA and Plonk together: TEAMWORK
In general, if you ask which module you should buy, the answer you’ll get will be, “Both!” And here to help you want to buy both of these fun voices, let’s use them together in a jam. Here, we have BIA and Plonk being sequenced by the Stillson Hammer MKII through our old favorite, the Confundo Funkitus. We’re using its controls and two Synthwerks MG-1’s to modify the sequence.
Let’s be real here: these are both great modules. If you want the additive power and immediacy of the BIA, go for it. If you want Plonk’s presets and physical modelling, go for it. The choice is yours, and hopefully we’ve given you a better idea of each module’s strengths and sounds!