EVGA NU Audio Sound Card Review 50

EVGA NU Audio Sound Card Review

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Introduction



One of the more intriguing events at this year's CES was EVGA's introduction of the NU Audio sound card. Being a piece of hardware you "get for free" with any motherboard, sound cards aren't easy to sell—more so when you consider that many users simply don't care about sound quality all that much, especially if they don't own a good pair of headphones or speakers. This is particularly true with high-end (expensive) sound cards. With a price tag of $250, the EVGA NU Audio definitely is pricey, so let's just tackle that fact head on. This isn't a product that is going to have a huge audience, nor would I assume EVGA expects it to. Some of you will undoubtedly be quick to discard it based on price alone, thinking you can buy a quality external USB DAC/headphone amp for less money. Yes, there are plenty of excellent DAC/amps available in the $250 (or lower) price bracket. A Schiit stack (Magni + Modi) will cost you around $200, the JDS Labs O2+ODAC combo comes to around $290, Cambridge Audio sells its DacMagic 100 for $200, AudioQuest wants around $200 for the excellent DragonFly Red, and less-known Asian brands, such as FiiO, offer some very interesting choices for less than $100 (the fan-favorite FiiO E10K currently goes for about $75). While all of them are nice upgrades to the sound quality of your headphones or speakers, those aren't "real" sound cards. What a fully fledged sound card such as the EVGA NU Audio will offer you and a DAC/amp won't is a dedicated microphone input and a software solution you could potentially use to tailor the sound performance of your speakers and headphones to your liking. A line output is another feature not all DAC/amps include, but most sound cards do. If it's not available, you'll have to plug your active speakers into the already amplified 3.5 mm audio output and deal with double amplification, along with everything that comes with it—signal distortion and damage to your components.



EVGA was kind enough to provide us with two samples of the NU Audio sound card. One went through the diligent hands of the one and only VSG, so please refer to his excellent and thorough unboxing and preview (available here) to see the ins and outs of the EVGA's NU Audio sound card. There's really not much for me to add in terms of the boxed contents, general design, or layout of the card and its PCB, or the hardware EVGA decided to use for the PCB. It should be noted that the engineering for the sound card was done by Audio Note, an English company with close to 20 years of experience in the higher end of the hi-fi business. Audio Note makes power amplifiers, integrated amplifiers, pre-amps, loudspeakers, DACs, audio cables, turntables, and CD players. It's less known as one of only a couple of hi-fi companies making every single part of their products on their own without resorting to mass-produced components. They generally lean toward a more analogue "flavor" of sound—their best-known power amps use tubes instead of transistors. I was very surprised to find out that EVGA managed to establish a cooperation with a brand that is as deep into high-end hi-fi as Audio Note, but the word on the street is that EVGA's CEO is a die-hard audiophile, so I can only assume that's part of the explanation. Getting back on track, the second sample of the NU Audio sound card was generously sent overseas, all the way to Croatia, so I could share my thoughts on its performance, compare it to various external DAC/amps at my disposal, test its microphone input, and examine its software. Let's do exactly that.

Specifications

EVGA NU Audio Sound Card
Audio DSPXMOS xCORE-200, Native DSD Support (up to x256)
DACAKM AK4493
ADC (Line-In/Mic-In)AKM AK5572/ Cirrus Logic CS5346
OP-AMP (Headphone/Line Out)ADI OP275/ ADI AD8056 (both user-swappable)
Output Configuration2 Channel (Analog), 5.1 Channel (digital via S/PDIF)
Dynamic Range (DNR)/ Signal-to-Noise (SNR)123 dB (Stereo Playback), 121 dB (line-in recording)
Playback FormatUp to 384kHz/32-bit (stereo), up to 192kHz/24-bit (optical)
Recording FormatUp to 384 kHz/32-bit (line-in), up to 192kHz/24-bit (mic-in)
Headphone Amp16-600 Ω (Independent Analog Control)
Maximum Voltage8 Vrms
Maximum Current250 mA
RGB Lighting10 - Mode w/ Audio Reactive Lighting
I/OStereo Out (RCA L/R), Headphone Out (6.3 mm), Line-In (3.5 mm), Mic-In (3.5 mm), Optical Out (TOSLINK Passthrough), Front Panel Header
SoftwareYes
InterfacePCIe x1 Gen2
Power Connector1x SATA Power
Supported OSWindows 10, 8.1, 7
Warranty3 years
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