EVGA NU Audio Sound Card Review 81

EVGA NU Audio Sound Card Review

Microphone Input Performance »

Subjective Performance

In the audio hardware department, EVGA spared no expense with the NU Audio sound card. The component list is quite impressive: the digital-to-analog conversion is done by the AKM AK4493EQ, Ashai Kasei Microdevices' flagship DAC capable of 32-bit/384 kHz PCM playback. It will also do up to 11.29 MHz native DSD256 playback. It's the same DAC as in some higher-quality external DAC/amps, such as the $480 Monoprice Monolith. The AK4493EQ DAC then feeds the converted audio signal to a fully balanced linear phase low pass filter formed by TI LME49724 fully differential amplifiers, Audio Note resistors, and high quality WIMA, Nichicon, and Panasonic FC capacitors. The balanced signal is fed to the line stage made up of an ADI AD8056 dual op-amp. The headphone amplifier consists of an ADI OP275 dual op-amp combined with two TI LME49600 power buffer ICs. Both op-amps are seated in their respective IC sockets (U613 for line-out and U564 for headphone out) and "op-amp rolling" is fully supported. Meaning, if you have a preference for some other combination of op-amps and think they can do a better job than the ones picked by Audio Note, there's nothing stopping you from unscrewing the metal shield from the card and replacing those op-amps with others ones—just be extremely careful of what you plug in where. The specified SNR for stereo playback equals 123 dB (121 dB for line-in recording).

To test the audio performance of the EVGA NU Audio sound card and get a good perspective on it, I gathered some of my headphones, speakers, and DAC/amps and conducted over 150 hours of A-B testing in music (hi-res FLAC files, Tidal, Spotify, Deezer), movies (Netflix and HBO GO), and games (Battlefield V, Apex Legends, Mass Effect 3 and Forza Horizon 4, to name a few). Here's a list of the gear I used in my tests and comparisons.

Headphones

Speakers

DAC/amps

So, how does this thing sound? Quite impressive, I must say. I tested a lot of PC sound cards in my career (pretty much everything ever released under the Creative Sound Blaster or Asus Xonar lineup), but never before did I listen to one that dished out a sound that's as powerful, tight, and mindbogglingly clean as the sound delivered by the EVGA NU Audio. First of all, this beast has a massive supply of raw power. It tackled all of my headphones with ease, even those generally more demanding in terms of driving power, such as the HiFiMan HE4XX or 600 Ω variant of the Beyerdynamic DT 990. Some of the devices I compared the NU Audio sound card with, such as the FiiO E10K and integrated sound card, weren't able to push those headphones to acceptable listening volumes. At the same time, I didn't come anywhere near cranking the volume dial(s) of the NU Audio as far as it can go on those headphones. The EVGA NU Audio can deliver more power than the AudioQuest DragonFly Red ($200), NAD D 3020 V2 ($400), or Denon PMA-60 ($600). It has more power even than the Audiolab M-DAC, and that's a $750 unit! Comparing it to the integrated sound card feels pointless as it completely obliterates it in every possible aspect even though my motherboard (Asus ROG MAXIMUS XI Formula) is equipped with one of the best on-board sound cards on the market, the ROG SupremeFX S1220.

It's not all about the power, though. The sound produced by the EVGA NU Audio is crystal clear even at very high volumes, with rich dynamics, a great balance of depth and bite, and wonderful musicality. When the sound card is combined with a good pair of headphones, you're in for a real treat. But there's hope even if your headphones of choice are lacking in some department because of he 10-band equalizer offered within the NU Audio software driver. The equalizer is handled by the xMOS xCORE-200 DSP. One particular pair of headphones I own, the Massdrop-exclusive HiFiMan HE4XX, are excellent in almost every regard, but they don't go as low or hit as hard in the bass region as I'd like. At the same time, their planar magnetic drivers respond very well to equalization; it's very hard to get them to distort regardless of what you do with the equalizer. Thanks to that, the EVGA NU Audio allowed me to permanently tune those headphones to my liking, effectively giving me an even better pair of headphones I now enjoy using even more.

As far as I'm concerned, in terms of sound output quality, the EVGA NU Audio is a true hi-fi product. Many audiophiles won't be all too eager to accept that given its PCIe-card form factor, but that doesn't change the fact that it performs better than many established and well-liked external DAC/amps.

RMAA Measurements

I did a simple loopback test with Rightmark Audio Analyzer 6.4.5, a nice piece of software that can be used to get various measurements of the frequency response, noise level, dynamic range, total harmonic distortion (THD), stereo crosstalk between channels, and so on. A loopback test is when you feed the line input of the sound card with its own output signal instead of using an external signal generator. I took measurements of both the headphone and line (speaker) outputs of the EVGA NU Audio with 24-bit/48 kHz, 24-bit/96 kHz, and 24-bit/192 kHz sample rates. To keep things concise, I'll only show the 24-bit/192 kHz tests in this review. I'd be happy to share the full 24-bit/48 kHz and 24-bit/96 kHz test reports with anyone who's interested in them, so please don't hesitate to ask for them in the comment section!

Headphone Output (24-bit/192 kHz)

EVGA NU Audio Headphone Output RMAA 6.4.5 Measurements
Frequency Response (40 Hz to 15 kHz, dB)+0.00, -0.12Excellent
Noise Level, dB (A)-106.4Excellent
Dynamic Range, dB (A)106.7Excellent
THD, %0.00110Excellent
THD + Noise, dB (A)-95.5 Excellent
IMD + Noise, %0.00231Excellent
Stereo Crosstalk, dB-100.0Excellent
IMD at 10 kHz, %0.00280 Excellent
General PerformanceExcellent






Line Output (24-bit/192 kHz)

EVGA NU Audio Line Output RMAA 6.4.5 Measurements
Frequency Response (40 Hz to 15 kHz, dB)+0.01, -0.10Excellent
Noise Level, dB (A)-107.3Excellent
Dynamic Range, dB (A)107.4Excellent
THD, %0.00058Excellent
THD + Noise, dB (A)-98.8 Excellent
IMD + Noise, %0.00134Excellent
IMD at 10 kHz, %0.00129 Excellent
General PerformanceExcellent



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