I've always been more of a Passives guy but I have an EMG 81/85 combo in one of my guitars and I'm starting to kind of like it. The 81 is nice and tight and great for some chugga chugga riffs and the 85 in the neck is super hot and gives a super saturated butter smooth lead sound. Surprisingly the clean tones on both pickups are really nice. Gotta roll off the volume knob a bit or the 85 especially overloads the front end of the amp when playing clean but when you do it sounds pretty nice. Very clear and rolling off the volume literally just lowers output instead of introducing slight distortion like in passives.

I wouldn't play bluesy mid-gain stuff with these but that's what my other guitar is for. Plus I've been listening to demos of the EMG 57/66 combo and I'm itching to try them. All the clips I've heard sound great and they might actually be great "do it all" pickups. Anyone try them? What do you think?
I have a set of 81/85s and while they're not my all time favourite pickups i generally agree with you, except for the clean part... I've never had much luck getting good cleans with them because they're so damn high output
i have EMG 81's in a pair of fender showmasters. (single pickup) and they are good for what they do, br00tz, etc. damn good at it. IMO. but not versatile at all.

i haven't ever gotten good cleans either.

try a 85/60 combo. much nicer.

also neither of my showmasters have the 18v mod ATM, but it IS worth it. quick and easy to do as well.
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