I'm getting an ESP M-400 for Christmas and it comes with EMG 81's in both bridge and neck positions. When I get it I want to switch the neck pickup but I don't know what to switch it too. I like playing death and thrash metal. I know its all personal opinion but I don't know anything about all the different tones the pickups have. Any suggestions? I know 81/85 and 81/60 are common. Also, if active pickups have higher gain, then why do so many death metals have guitarist with passive pickups? Can passive pickups get as much gain as active? I know Chuck Schuldiner from death used a single Dimarzio X2N (its passive) and his tone is super metal.
You can use passive pickups, but they will have slightly less output and would probably produce a bit more noise. You might prefer the sound those produce.

Also, you pretty much answered your own question. 81/85 and 81/60 are really common. I prefer the 81/85 but this is really something you should personally try.

I wouldn't recommend using one passive and one active pickup either. It's a pain in the ass to wire, and the active will have a higher output.
WTLTL 2011
yeah, it's a pain to have both active and passive... also your middle position basically won't be usable any more (both pickups on).

Might be worth trying the 85 in the bridge position too, that is if you decide to get an 85.
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