EVGA NU Audio Sound Card Review 81

EVGA NU Audio Sound Card Review

Audio Performance & Measurements »


The EVGA NU Audio software could do with a lot of visual and functional refinement, but it gets the job done. I'd like to stress that it's a work in progress—every update EVGA released during my time with the sound card added some nice new features. The main screen is split into output and input sections. By using the circular sliders, you can control the sound and microphone volume. It's possible to control (or mute) the master volume, headphone volume, and S/PDIF volume independently. In other words, you can have your speakers and headphones set to different volume levels. Well, that's only partially true. The master volume is directly tied to the Windows volume, so adjusting it in any direction will inevitably change the loudness of the headphones as well. However, it won't do anything to the headphone volume slider since that slider actually increases and decreases the power to the headphone op-amp—you can then still turn the headphone volume up or down regardless of the current master volume level. This is what EVGA recommends you to do in their manual:

At 100% the headphone volume is set for 600 Ω impedance. At approximately 42%, the headphone volume is set for 250 Ω impedance. At approximately 5%, the headphone volume is set for 32 Ω. For best practices, we suggest that you manually set the headphone volume to the rated impedance of your headphones and adjust the volume through the Master Volume. If you do not know the rated impedance of your headphones, begin by taking off your headphones, turn the Master Volume to 100%, and the Headphone Volume to 0%. Play some audio to make sure that you can hear audio and put your headphones on only if the audio is too low or at a comfortable level. Continue listening and slowly raise the Headphone Volume until the audio is at your optimal listening volume. Please be careful when setting the Headphone Volume; setting the Headphone Volume too high for an extended period of time can damage headphones rated for a lower impedance. Always lower the Headphone Volume when trying a different pair of headphones.

If for some reason you want to control the volume of the left and right channel separately, that's doable as well: simply click the chain icon under the slider. Same goes for the input section—you can adjust the microphone and line-in levels separately. At the bottom of the window, you can select the sample rate, starting from 16-bit/44.1 kHz (yuck!) and going all the way up to 32-bit/384 kHz. Circular sliders are generally annoying to use (the idea is to "emulate" a physical volume dial, I guess). As far as I'm concerned, regular vertical sliders, or even horizontal ones, would offer a nicer overall user experience.

This is an important section of the NU Audio software, and one you could potentially miss, again because of the less-than-ideal design of the user interface. It's accessed by clicking the unassuming gray arrows on either side of the main window. What we have here is a 10-band, system-wide equalizer and a grand total of six user profile "containers" which can hold five profiles each. You can boost or lower the 32 Hz, 64 Hz, 125 Hz, 250 Hz, 500 Hz, 1 kHz, 2 kHz, 4 kHz, 8 kHz, and 16 kHz frequency ranges, on a ±12 dB scale. This will have a massive impact on the sound signature of your speakers or headphones. If utilized cleverly, this equalizer can help you mend some of the potential drawbacks of your listening devices (adding more bass, for example).

In case you're not very familiar with the sound frequency scale, just a quick reminder: the 20–60 Hz range is what we call "sub bass" (very deep bass that's more felt than heard), and the 60–250 Hz range is bass. Meaning, the first four sliders in the EVGA NU Audio software adjust the depth of the sound. While you might want to go crazy with the adjustments here, do be careful as too much sub bass makes everything sound overpowering, and going overboard with "regular" bass can lead to boominess and a loss of detail in the vocals. The midrange spans from 250 Hz to 4 kHz and is theoretically split into the low midrange (250–500 Hz), midrange (500 Hz–2 kHz), and upper midrange (2 kHz–4 kHz). Vocals and many instruments "operate" within this frequency range, and human hearing is most sensitive to those frequencies as well, so be careful when fiddling with them. You don't want the vocals too forward or drowned out by the music. Furthermore, boosting the frequencies above 3 kHz can cause listening fatigue, so that's another thing to keep in mind. Finally, anything above 4 kHz is the high range, sometimes split into presence (4–6 kHz) and brilliance (6–20 kHz). By boosting the frequencies within this range, you can add clarity and definition to the sound, but doing so also introduce harshness and an audible hiss.

Proper adjustment of the equalizer is a long and sometimes tedious process, and not every pair of speakers or headphones reacts well to it. If you start hearing distortions, you went outside of the scope of what the speaker drivers of your listening device(s) can handle. On the other hand, a well-adjusted equalizer can help you bring out the best in your gear. The EVGA NU Audio software lets you configure a grand total of 30 different equalizer profiles with the ability to easily switch between them.

Finally, the LED menu is where you'll go to adjust the color and effects of the RGB-backlit lettering on the side of the sound card. You can set it to any color you want or turn it off completely. The effects are called Static, Pulse, Breathing, Rainbow, Wave, Mist, Sonic, Lightning, Fireworks, and Frequency.

Two more options are available in the Setup menu, accessed by clicking the cog icon in the upper-right corner of the NU Audio software. Here, you can adjust the so-called "Sound Color Digital Filter". It's a feature of the AKM DAC and ADC (on the line-in; the microphone input uses a different, Cirrus Logic ADC), essentially a digital filter that controls the transient response of the audio signal. You can play around with the digital filters and check if you can hear any differences, but my experience has shown that most users won't practically hear any differences. For the names and explanations of the filters, please refer to AKM's official website (click here and search for "SCDF").

There's one annoying issue I noticed during my time with the EVGA NU Audio driver—it's sensitive to output switching in Windows. Whenever I changed to a different external sound card connected to my PC, which is something I do several times daily, and then came back to the EVGA NU Audio, the driver would lose track of my volume and EQ settings. Sometimes, no audio would play at all. Fixing the issue was as simple as manually closing the software and starting it up again, but I can't say I enjoyed doing that multiple times a day. While I'm fully aware that most users won't ever switch from the EVGA NU Audio as their default input/output device, especially not as often as I do, the fact remains that the software clearly needs more work.
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