From the manufacturer:
In 2006, we took a close look at the most popular active neck and bridge humbuckers to see if we could capture all of the good qualities and eliminate the disadvantages: cold sound, limited dynamics, running out of headroom when played hard, and the need for batteries. The end results are the D Activator™ Neck and Bridge. They use coils tuned to specific frequencies. The purpose is to shift the resonant points of the pickups to the fundamentals and harmonics that you want to accentuate from the guitar, and they respond instantly to hard or light pick attack. The sound is powerful, clean, and open, with excellent harmonic overtones and very tight lows. The best way to describe the D Activator™ Neck pickup is that it is big, bright, and open sounding with surprising string - to - string balance. The D Activator™ Bridge has an enriched harmonic quality and the notes want to sing.
The D Activator™ Bridge has an enriched harmonic quality and the notes want to sing. Both the D Activator™ Neck and Bridge pickups were designed to eliminate the sterile edginess commonly associated with active pickups. The D Activator™ Bridge pickup is about 25% louder than the D Activator™ Neck. Since we were developing both pickups as a set from the ground up, we adjusted the volume levels on the pickups so they are balanced. That way when you switch from the neck to the bridge, you don’t hear a drop in volume — also a frequent problem with active pickups — and they don’t use batteries.
An interesting fact about the most popular active bridge pickups is that they aren’t incredibly loud. Instead, they have a strong, focused attack that hits the amp very hard and makes them ‘feel’ more powerful than they actually spec out to be. This is an important characteristic that we needed to capture with the D Activator™ bridge pickup. We also wanted to avoid the limiting effect that can occur with active pickups when they are played hard. Our pickup is passive with a lot of headroom, and it responds quickly and accurately to changes in pick attack. A hard pick attack doesn’t cause the signal to flatten out, and picking more softly or rolling the volume control down lets the sound clean up naturally.
There’s a big difference between a pickup that sounds bright and one that sounds thin. A thin-sounding pickup will be brittle on the highest frets and empty-sounding in the mids and lows. The D Activator™ neck model doesn’t do this – both the wound and plain strings remain tight and bright up the neck, and very well balanced. This allows the D Activator™ neck model to function well in both longer scale bolt-ons and shorter scale, set-neck guitars. It also makes for a good bridge pickup if you want a sound with a lot of snap and power.
Like all passive pickups, D Activator™ pickups require controls with a minimum value of 250Kohms. 500K is the standard all around value, and our 1Megohm tone control is best for long cable runs.
Ethan's picks for best videos/sound clips:
The DiMarzio D Activator DP220 and DP219 models are passive pickups with an active design -- resulting in a loud and clear sound without the limitations of an active pickup. They are high-output humbuckers that sound great for articulate leads and aggressive rhythms. Skip to 1:00 to hear the bridge pickup on a basic rock setting. It has a very cutting sound with accentuated high-end frequencies and a tight low end for a gritty rhythm sound. Listen to the glassy clean tones you can get with these pickups at 2:15. Both pickups have a very sharp attack for a nice spanky sound, with detailed highs and punchy lows. The D Activators really shine with a lot of gain on tap (listen at 4:00), making them a great option for heavy riffing or shredding leads (4:50). The upper harmonic content really sparkles while the low end stays nice and focused. Combine both pickups and dial back the gain and you can get a nice twangy rhythm sound that is perfect for indie/alt rock. The options are endless with the D Activator pickups, giving you an active sound with more definition and dynamics for an expressive tone.
The player is Paul Riario from Guitar World and he is using an ESP LTD EC-401 guitar.
Get killer metal lead tone with the DiMarzio D Activator pickups. For fast passages, tapping, and sweep arpeggios, these pickups will cut through the mix with amazing presence and precision. You can easily achieve that classic melodic metal lead sound with soaring highs that attack with edge and decay with beautiful sustain. Skip to 2:00 to hear the neck pickup in action; it has a rich harmonic quality that is extremely expressive and very musical. The D Activators will give you a powerful sound that is clean and articulate, making them a suitable choice for metal players who want the perks of an active sound with the added dynamic and responsive character of a passive pickup. Plus you don't have to worry about the batteries!
The player is Jamie Robinson and he is using an Ibanez RG550.
This video showcases the DiMarzio D Activator bridge pickup being played through a variety of high-gain amp models through an Axe FX II. The tight low end, focused mids, and biting highs lend to a very usable sound for Djent and other heavy styles. You can easily detune your guitar and dial in thick gain and still get great articulation and edge from these pickups.
The player is Dennis Kayzer and he is using a Jackson USA Custom Shop Soloist guitar through an Axe FX II with various amp models.
Here is another quick clip highlighting the edgy rhythm tones you can get with the DiMarzio D Activator bridge pickup. This pickup crunches nicely and can give you crystal clear tones with heavy saturation. Chords are full and rich while each note is articulated very clearly -- resulting in a cutting sound that is tight and powerful.
The player is Dave Zapf and he is using an Ibanez seven-string guitar through a Fasttrack-Pro Interface into Reaper, using a Djenty Preset in Guitar Rig 5.
This clip, although brief, really highlights the D Activator bridge pickup in a Djent context. Low notes are incredibly articulate, punching through the mix with amazing clarity and edge. This pickup cuts like a dagger with its tight lows, aggressive midrange, and transparent highs -- accentuating any sort of percussive playing with ease. It also responds incredibly well to sharp picking, with an extremely focused attack that doesn't immediately flatten out like an active pickup would. Instead, you get amazing dynamic control and a natural responsiveness for incredible power and precision.
The player is Nelson Rebelo and he is using an Ibanez RGA 7. His signal chain is: TSE TS808 -> GGate -> TSE X30 1.6 SOVTEK -> NadIR (ENGL Retro Tube and EVH 5150 III Cab Impulses).
In this video, heavy metal guitarist John 5 talks about his love for Fender Telecasters and DiMarzio D Activator pickups. He addresses how Teles aren't conventionally used for heavy rock, but that his signature guitar is the perfect axe for his playing style -- especially since it's loaded with D Activators. Ironically, most of this video showcases the country/rockabilly clean tones you can get with these pickups. Jump to 0:45 to hear John play a few rockabilly-style riffs on a clean setting, noticing the crystal treble tones for a nice country twang. The middle position (1:10) provides a nice blend of warm low end with sharp highs. The bridge pickup has plenty of bite for great chickin' pickin' tone on a clean setting (1:30), and the neck offers a warm jazz tone that is warm and mellow (2:00). The D Activator pickups can do more than just your traditional heavy tones; they are a surprisingly versatile set of pickups that can cover a lot of applications, even if those applications seem unconventional at first.
The player is John 5 and he is using a Fender Telecaster through a Fender Frontman 25 DSP amp.