D-Activator Bridge DP220 review by DiMarzio

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  • Sound: 6
  • Overall Impression: 5
  • Reliability & Durability: 8
  • Reviewer's score: 6.3 Neat
  • Users' score: 9 (17 votes)
DiMarzio: D-Activator Bridge DP220
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Price paid: $ 59.95

Purchased from: Steve's Music Center

Sound — 6
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.

Overall Impression — 5
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.

Reliability & Durability — 8
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 comments sorted by best / new / date

    breadfan82
    You know, I'm just about sick to death of people reviewing pickups with some fuckin' Line 6 modeling amp and an entry-level instrument, and then try to bitch about things like attack and dynamics, or how the "feel" is blah . I have this bridge pickup in an ESP Eclipse II, run through a JVM410 Marshall half stack, and guess what? The attack and dynamics are both there. Punch? Fuckin' right. The point really is that if you liked the EMGs so much, you'd have never taken them out for something else. If you're just pushing a digital signal through a modeling amp, an EMG 81 (with nearly 3 times as much output as the D Activator) WILL give that signal more of what you consider to be "attack". Honestly, I use the 81 for certain applications, and it delivers what it's meant to. Might I add that the D Activator is a pretty great choice for a high-output passive pickup, but some goddamn digital modeling amp is a piss-poor proving grounds for either one. Your pickups can really help, but won't necessarily make your $300 guitar and $200 amp sound like something of higher quality. 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 mo nths, 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 Just a goddamn minute, here. Let me get this straight: you ripped out an active EMG 81 for lack of versatility, and then replaced it with a passive pickup that you thought was going to sound like an active EMG 81? You thought you'd try a different pickup that you hoped would sound the same , but the pickup sounded different than the one that "lacked versatility", so you criticize DiMarzio for not making it sound the same as the one you were originally dissatisfied with? Are you fuckin' serious? Did you even read your own review? *Department of Redundancy Department* What the hell?
    jm1681
    Lol! I haven't been here for a while, but thanks for the laugh ^_^ Telling me that the price of a guitar has anything to do with the sound that comes out of it! And that any Flextone III was $200 at any point XD You really are a hoot ^_^ I've since come around to the D-Activator. Gives me all manner of different options, and the sound has grown on me in all the right ways.
    breadfan82
    It is funny, however, that when you came back the only arrow in your quiver was the price of your rig. The amp might have been more expensive back then, but that doesn't make it any less digital. Modeling amps aren't exactly a good tool to use when you're going to critique any pickup that is designed to add character to a tube amp's tone. You never see pickups advertising to turn your solid-state or digital amp into a crushing tone monster, because if that's what you have, then your pickups don't much matter, apart from maybe their output level alone. Don't get me wrong here, I'm not a fanboy for this particular pickup--it's great, but I've had better and worse too. And after reading my above comment again, I see that I was breathing a bit of fire there, so yeah, sorry about that. I'm just sick of the reviews that are going about their process in a a manner that most would agree is probably less than ideal. Price of guitar makes no difference? I'll only give you that as "debatable" or "one-to-one basis", and not because of name, price, or even materials, but because there's quality control to be considered there. Trust me, I've had enough cheap guitars too, so I know plenty about that. If you think a First Act and a PRS are going to sound the same, that's your opinion, but probably only yours. If the price (and most often, by proxy, build quality) didn't matter, we'd all be playing the cheapest Chinese knockoffs we could get our grubby mitts on. But I do sincerely appreciate the feedback. P.S.--Not to be a dick, dude, but your Flextone III? They're all over the internet under $300, and a big pile are under $200. Even as far as phased-out amps go, they're practically giving them away. So there's your "at any point" thing. You're right--I really am a hoot.
    jm1681
    Arrow in my quiver?! Dude, we're talking about guitar pickups; calm down. Everything in this discussion is subjective. Everything. Saying that modeling amps aren't a good gauge, you're being elitist. Same as you are when you say one guitar of X value can't be as good as another guitar of Y value. Forget the amp. A guitar is only as good as the last person who gave it a thorough once over. PRS guitars are great out of the factory; of course they are. Cheaper guitars tend to leave the factory in various states of incomplete; of course they are, they're cheaper and less QC is put into them. However. Putting a cheap guitar in the hands of a skilled technician changes everything, and for a whole lot less money. This isn't arguable I'm afraid. I mean, you can argue, you're just wrong if you do. A guitar feels, and plays as good as the last person who gave it a complete and thorough set it up. Sound I'll give you, because cheap pickups are a thing. But again, that's not to say what sounds good to one person, will sound good to the next. You might love the pups on a PRS, maybe I prefer the pups on an Ibanez (Not saying I do, just making a point). You've gotten very bent out of shape here (Because as you yourself said "I see that I was breathing a bit of fire there."), over something that shouldn't even be a discussion. You like what you like, you feel what you feel; that is YOU, and (!), that is fine. But calling someone out over things that are completely, 100%, based on personal preference? Just take it easy "james, if you're calling me bent out of shape, what does that make you? Look at all that crap you just wrote defending your argument!" You kicked the bear, sue me
    breadfan82
    Again man, sorry if the comment seems scathing, it's really not meant to be (curse of the internet, I'm afraid...difficult to just discuss without it sounding like arguing). I can tell you're not uninformed on the subject, I get that. Great point on the setup--some of my cheapest rigs over the years have played and sounded great after a good setup. We'll just have to agree to disagree on the amp thing. I don't think my perspective on it makes me 'elitist" about it, but tube amps are what these companies have in the forefront of their minds when they design the pickups. But if you would please, go back and read your review and level with me--you said you wanted something different than the 81, and seemed rather disappointed to discover that it actually was different. And thinking about it, the lack of attack you described could have been your settings or just the way you were playing that day, or maybe it truly does lack the dynamics that you're looking for. Bottom line is that hey, I'm sorry for flying off the handle in the first comment, as my opinion was that so many here use test criteria that I truly feel is inadequate or maybe inappropriate for their reviews, and this one was like the fifth one I read that day, and I just let loose. I'm glad to find that you are reasonable enough to discuss the subject. Cheers.
    jm1681
    It's cool, we found even ground and that's what's important About my comment concerning the pickups; I believe I should either revise, or update the review What I sought to find in the D-Activator, was the characteristics the 81 offered (The bright tone, and sharp attack), but with greater versatility (Coil split, parallel, out of phase, etc...). In the end, I suppose I got used to what the D-Activator does (Which really, at this point, I see was me splitting very fine hairs. I really am too particular about my tone), versus the 81. I believe that through years of playing it, the 81 shaped the "feel" and character of my sound. Now however, after switching to the DiMarzio, my ears have aided in altering my right-hand technique slightly, in order to perceive the same thing. Does that make sense? It made sense in my head XD And just as you said, I am glad that we were able to talk this out
    breadfan82
    No worries, man. Good luck in finding your sound, as we all struggle finding our true tone throughout our playing. And hey, who really gives a shit what I think anyway, right? Have a good one!