External Design and Features
The EVGA NU Audio comes in a single-slot PCI Express form factor and needs a PCI Express x1 Gen2 slot to communicate with the rest of the system. You can, of course, connect it to any full-size PCI Express port at your disposal. You'll also need a SATA power connector to power its electronics as the integrated circuitry needs more power than the 25 W provided by the PCIe x1 slot.
As for the external design, it's nice to see that one part of the card (the bottom, after you've installed it into the case) is fully metal-shielded, although it's quite odd that the bottom of the PCB isn't shielded as well. Even if Audio Note and EVGA played around with this and realized it's not needed for signal cleanliness, an all-around metal shield would go a long way in terms of overall aesthetics. The way the card is designed, the only time you'll see its beautiful metal shield is when taking it out of the box. After you start using it (and assuming you have a case with a transparent side panel), you'll have to look at the unshielded part of the PCB. Well, that and the RGB-lit side of the NU Audio sound card. More on that in a moment.
I was somewhat surprised to find out that the EVGA NU Audio doesn't come with a true 5.1/7.1 analog output. You can digitally send the audio signal to a 5.1/7.1 AV receiver and have it decoded there because of the built-in S/PDIF out, but there's essentially no way to connect a surround system to the sound card directly. Not many users bother building surround sound speaker systems around their PC, opting for good stereo sound instead, but that doesn't change the fact that it's a feature you might expect considering the $250 price tag, as well as the fact that most integrated sound cards offer this functionality. What you do get is a 3.5 mm line input and microphone input, a dedicated 6.3 mm headphone output, and a pair of RCA line outputs, which can be turned into a single 3.5 mm output for regular PC speakers by using the supplied adapter. One more port can be found on the side of the sound card—it's the front-panel audio header. If you want your case's front-panel audio input and output to be connected to the EVGA NU Audio instead of your integrated sound card, you'll need to use this built-in header. I have a strong feeling that the front-panel header would be better located on the rear side of the card, next to the SATA power connector, both in terms of cable management and reachability.
This is what the EVGA NU Audio sound card looks like after you install it. Despite some aforementioned design quirks, I have to admit I like how it fits in. Even the RGB-backlit lettering looks good in a case with a transparent side panel. The typography is nice, the letters look sharp, and there's no light bleed between letters. The color of the RGB backlight can be chosen freely, and EVGA even threw some lighting effects into the mix. You have your usual Static, Pulse, Breathing, Wave, and Rainbow effects, all of them with adjustable brightness and speed (other than Static, of course). There are also a few more advanced effects tied to the sound frequencies being reproduced by the sound card. For example, you can have the LEDs blinking in the rhythm of the song you're listening to. Kind of silly, but hey, if it's your cup of tea, knock yourself out. Overall, the NU Audio sound card looks like a high-end piece of hardware, and it won't have trouble fitting into any setup in terms of looks.