Price paid: $ 59.95
Purchased from: Steve's Music Center
Sound: The output is high, but not as perceivably high as the EMG 81 it replaced. The slightly lower power DOES make the pickup quite a bit clearer, and I like that, but, it's just not as potent as the EMG. Period. The tone is surprisingly similar to an EMG 81, save for a noticeable spike in the upper-mids, sort of like a wah pedal nearly all the way forward. I believe this was intentional, to create "perceived" attack. This brings me to the next issue.
What a lot of people complain about in EMGs, people who LIKE EMGs love, and that's the razor sharp attack (Or as many people call it, "Lack of dynamics"). Light picking or hard picking hits the amp like an ice pick, and hits the amp evenly with the same amount of punch. This DOES NOT HAPPEN with the D-Activator. This is another element DiMarzio says they tried to duplicate, but it simply isn't the case. Digging in as hard as I can STILL won't produce the same bite as an 81, and that's really unfortunate. It's a tremendous loss for the pickup, because I truly believe that's one of the most important elements of actives, and something I really hoped would not be the case with the D-Activator. Because it asks, I'm playing this through a Line 6 Flextone III 2x12 combo. // 6
Reliability & Durability: I don't worry about the DiMarzio lasting in any way shape or form. However, I feel there is something to be said about the difference in construction from the EMG it replaced. DiMarzio, Duncan, a many other aftermarket pickup manufacturers all build their pickups in similar ways, in regards to the construction at least.
Fabric-wrapped wire, and plastic bobbins. In perspective, unless you punch, kick, and spill a LOT on your guitar, that type of construction really ought to be adequate. However, the completely sealed EMG 81 is definitely more durable. Sadly, it's just another area the D-Activator loses out to the EMG in. // 8
Overall Impression: After 14 years, I was finally fed up by the lack of versatility in the EMG 81; I had to try something new. I researched for months, and after reading DiMarzio's claims, that they set out to capture the characteristics of "the most popular active bridge pickups", the D-Activator seemed like the best option (In my price range). I wanted to love this pickup, I really did. I wanted it to be the versatile, passive 81 replacement I've longed for (And in that regard, I DID get coil tap options, as well as series and parallel options which I really enjoy). It just isn't an 81 though. The tone I'm fine with. I think it sounds good, but the "feel" is just wrong. It's not as sharp (Though it IS very tight), and when you're used to that sort of attack, it's almost like the instrument itself feels wrong.
I question whether or not a compressor would fix the attack issue, but then I wonder why a lot of pros who bitch about dynamic-crushing EMGs, run compressors. It's like, "Why not just play an EMG?" I also hate that I might have to add a pedal to my setup, just to remedy an issue that was not present before the pickup. As for that instrument, it is a '96 ESP LTD H-2, MIJ, and the pickup is in the bridge position. Much as I do like the tone and clarity, I just don't know if I'm going to get over the lack of attack. // 5