First off I must state that a pickups sound can vary in different guitars and also through different amplifiers and FX units, so sometimes it's a matter of taking the manufacturers description as a rough guide only.
This is all stuff that I've actually tried myself, mostly in my own guitars/gear and in many cases wasted money!
My musical tastes mainly lean towards the heavier side of things but there's a few milder choices too.
Brands covered are EMG, Seymour Duncan, DiMarzio, Fender, Jackson, Ibanez, Dragonfire, Entwistle and Warman.
The big names...
Only the one.
Tone Zone: Big and creamy distortion but with just enough clarity and a hint of fuzz without being fizzy. Super fat.
Some have said that EMG's suck tone and sound sterile and the same in every guitar, this is not quite true. What they do is impart their own sound more strongly than most passive pickups - a duff plank will sound dead and a class axe will sing EMG's or not.
EMG active products are rated to 27 volts and using a higher voltage over the standard 9v usually gives a cleaner, more open sound with greater depth, playing dynamics and extended frequency response. I don't think that this makes them more 'organic'.
81: The modern metal standard and for good reason. High output with a razor sharp attack, great sustain, tight low end and remains clear even with massive gain and low tunings. The downside is a lack of playing dynamics and sounds compressed and shut in (dry is the term usually used) when up against a good passive pickup. Terrible clean, it's way too focused for that sort of thing and sound flat, forward and lacks sparkle. 18v will bag a slightly more open sound, improved dynamics, complex harmonic overtones and an even faster attack.
85: Alnico magnet option that can just about cover anything from 'on the edge' blues break up to gut wrenching death metal. Still high output, still a touch dry but looser, more open and less of a 'distortion' pickup than the 81. Can be a bit boomy in the neck position but I find mounting it in an angled ring will cure that and add a touch of pick attack to lead playing ala James Murphy. Cleans are alright but slightly artificial to my ears. 18+ volts will clean up the bass and improve dynamics.
60: Like a fattened up 81 with a fuller bass and a lot less definition when the gain is set to stun. Clean is much better than the 81 but the 60 has a hard clang to the treble and bass can boom a bit. the 60 responds really well to a higher voltage and delivers a more controlled bass and sweeter highs. Fit an EXG circuit (see further down), run 18+ volts and it will start to really sing, dirty or clean.
60A: The Alnico magnet take on the 60. Rare as rocking horse sh*t on the used market and one of my personal favourites for neck position. It has warm (for an active) full bass, smooth highs and just enough power and sustain without too much muddiness for that fluid high gain jazz'esque solo tone on the neck position and works well clean for big acoustic sounding chords. Use 18v for extended high frequencies and cleaner bass. Use 50k pots for more bite.
S: Ceramic bar magnet single coil sized pickup. loud and percussive with a prominent upper mid attack. Listen to the intro on Metallica's "One" and you you'll know what I'm talking about. A little too hard for my ears but then some of this was possibly down to my Jackson Soloist which isn't exactly sweet... However if you want a loud, modern 'in yer face' Strat meets hot Tele tone then seek an S out.
SA: Bold and bell like, modern, HiFi and not overly Stratty but then it uses an Alnico bar instead of polepieces. If you want higher output and a bit more openness out of your single coils then this should be on the short list. Can deliver an almost electro acoustic quality to clean chords, more so with 18 volts.
SAV: I think it shares the same preamp as the SA but the pickup has flush Alnico polepieces. More focused than the SA with added punch and attitude to the big bold sound, loves a bit of dirt and definitely one for the rockers. Big tough Strat with steroids for breakfast.
SV: Notably less output than the others, this is the most vintage/passive sounding of the EMG's I've tried. It has much more of the true Strat "quack" and is nicely balanced with just enough attack without being harsh and breaks up nicely for that between clean and dirty sound.
PA2 Gain boost: On/Off toggle switch with a circuitboard mounted trim pot to adjust the boost. The circuit has no true bypass and converts a high impedance (passive) signal to low impedance. Adds a Hi Fi sheen but removes much of the character and dynamics of passive pickups in the off position, I didn't notice a change (No boost setting) with active EMG's. Flick on the boost and things sound bigger with more sustain. High levels of boost can sound fizzy and hiss can intrude. 18v is a must to preserve any of a passive pickups dynamics and tone.
EXG Tone expander: Shifts and extends the high and low frequencies whilst scooping out the mids. Not very effective with the 81 but worked wonders with the 60 both clean and dirty by removing the clang and replacing it with deep but controlled lows and a much sweeter treble for electro acoustic cleans and a more open and clear crunch when the gain is turned up high. 18v increased the effect. Hiss is slightly intrusive but not enough to spoil the fun.
Most of Duncan's humbucker range comes in bridge (B) and neck (N) versions and wider TB spacing for Floyd Rose equipped guitars. 4 conductor wiring opens up wiring options.
SH4/TB4 JB: "Sweet warm tones to raw rock 'n' roll" says Duncan and this is indeed a versatile high output pickup. Balanced tonal response with plenty of sustain, fantastic harmonic content and good single note clarity. It will mush chords with drop tunings but will kick out anything from Blues rock to Thrash metal. Aggressive crunch in an Ibanez RG505 but fuller and rounder in a Charvel 475, both basswood bodied, maple/rosewood necked, Floyd equipped superstrats and demonstrates what I previously stated about how pickups interact with different guitars! The cleans aren't too inspiring, even in split coil and parallel mode but give it gain (lots of) and the JB is a lead guitarists dream.
SH5/TB5 Duncan Custom: Duncan say "A hard-diving kicking sound" and that's about spot on, not harsh but tough, focused with a strong output for a chunky crunch. There isn't the harmonic overtones of the JB but there's good clarity so you can drop tunings and whack up the gain without thing turning to mush (Duncan Distortion...). Not too offensive using the coil split and parallel wiring option has a nice Gretsch like jangle for for clean work. Kick the coils back to the series and the testosterone floods out for muscular Hard Rock/Heavy Metal riffs at which it excels.
SH6/TB6 (B) Duncan Distortion: The JB has power enough for Rock/Metal solo's and the Invader is the one to crush bones but if you want an even hotter pickup with even more mids then the hugely overwound coils of the Distortion is where you want to head. I found it produced a fizzy distortion and lacked clarity. Remains the only Duncan I don't like... For anything. Clearance issues with pickup rings and pickguards due to the coils being so overwound.
SH8 Invader (B): Sounds just like it looks; Beast! It packs the low end from hell and huge output while crisp highs provide attack and good clarity - Death Metal a go go. When making use of the 4 conductor wiring in parallel you get a nice jangle for clean chords (honest) and in split coil mode it works well enough for medium gain applications. Neck version rolls off the output a fraction and gets more highs. Brutal.
SH10/TB10 (B) Full Shred: Don't let the name fool you it's not a one trick pony. It has the JB's crunch and harmonic overtones but trades some of the power and mids for a tighter bass with more highs and clarity. Single note definition is superb, response to playing dynamics is excellent even with high gain and when you roll off the volume pot the cleans are highly convincing. Think JB lite.
SH11/TB11 Custom Custom: Warm with a full but loose bass, medium+ output. Too flabby in the low end for high gain but I reckon It'd make a great bridge position pickup for Blues Rock, or, if you simply want to warm up a bright sounding guitar and don't want a really hot output then go for it. Don't put it in the neck slot.
SH12/TB12 Screamin' Demon: This is one big, open sounding pickup, it can make your 15w practice amp sound like a full stack! Medium output with super harmonic content and backs off on the volume pot for very impressive clean tones. Despite what Duncan claim it will get very harsh if you turn the gain up too high so not one for the Thrash boys but a top choice if you play Blues or Hard Rock.
SHPG1/TBPG1 Pearly Gates: Only spent about 10 minutes with a borrowed USA strat so I can't say much other than it had medium output and a nice sparkle on the highs without being thin. Sweet highs.
AHB1 Blackouts (B): Duncan's active EMG 81 rival. It's closer to the Duncan Distortion than an 81 with more bass, a shed load more mids and even more output, this is a very hot pickup! The treble is smoother and it doesn't have the same attack or ultra tight low end of the EMG. It is more organic sounding (but not as natural as a passive pickup) than the EMG's and if you found the 81 a bit thin and dry then it's well worth checking out. Dynamics? If you want something with this level of output are you really worried abut 'em?
AHB3 Mick Thomson EMTY (B): Duncan have taken the original Blackouts, tightened up the low end, backed off the mids and added more high mid/treble snap - an EMG 81? Not quite, the EMTY is bigger and louder than the 81 with better response to picking dynamics, filters less of your guitars natural tone and clarity easily rivals the 81 with drop tunings and massive gain. It's still quite active sounding - not sterile but still has what I descibe as a "Plastic" element to the tone - and cleans are not going to win any awards but they're not nearly as bad as you might think and still beat the EMG 81. I'm not a Slipknot fan.
Dave Mustaine Livewire set (B): Touted as an active JB and yes there is some similarity but the Mustaine has a charcter of it's own. There's the expected low impedance sheen on the highs and a bit of compression but the guitars natural tone comes through pretty well. Loads of power so it breaks up into distortion earlier and the overall sound is tighter than the JB. The all important 'Syphony of Destruction' crunch is there in spades with a pleasing growl on power chords. Clean is OK, there's depth and the EQ is fine but it doesn't respond to playing dynamics well and it sounds much the same if you roll off the volume pot. Seems to me that Duncan have spent the time on the preamp in this pickup to make it sound less artificial than most active pickups too.