EVGA Nu Audio
We didn’t hear this one coming...
Question in one of our features that seems to have been on the lips of PC users for the last 25 years: Do you need a soundcard? This issue, we ask simply: Do you need this one? Stylistically and on the spec sheet, EVGA’s high-end Nu Audio discrete soundcard is aimed squarely at gamers, but in truth, this is as much about enjoying better music as it is being able to hear Fortnite sound cues.
Let’s start with the headline numbers: Playback and recording formats go up to 384kHz, 32-bit audio, signal-to-noise ratio is nice and high at 123dB, and there’s a generous array of ins and outs comprising stereo and headphone-outs, 3.5mm line and mic-ins, an optical-out, and front panel header. There’s also, rather inexplicably, an RGB lighting panel on the card itself, which is customizable via EVGA’s Nu Audio software. We can get on board with RGB on keyboards and even graphics cards these days (just as long as we can turn it off or program the color profiles to our taste), but unless your case has an inverse arrangement inside, like Corsair’s 600C, you simply won’t see the RGB on this soundcard.
Installation is very similar to that of a GPU: Slide it into a free PCIe slot, hook up a power cable, and attach the header to the side of the card. This is a minor niggle for cable management virtuosos, because it would have been much easier to keep things tidy if both connectors were at the back. As it is, you’ll have to get creative with cable ties if you want to preserve the clean lines inside your case. Unlike many external DACs, however, this card requires its own drivers to work, so there’s marginally more fuss to the setup than you’d find from something like the Woo Audio WA7D Fireless. The offset is that you get the benefits of EVGA’s software for your troubles, although frankly it’s nothing particularly special. It’s a basic offering, which allows control of inputs, and features six custom EQ profiles. The user has to create all these profiles, however, and that’s disappointing, given this card’s high price point—a handful of basic profiles for different music genres or activities would have been nice. Compounding that downer, it’s actually quite confusing to save and apply these EQ profiles yourself. Iterations are needed on EVGA’s part to make this side of the bargain seem like much more of a meaningful benefit.
However, once you hook up some speakers or headphones to the card, you immediately understand the advantage of this hardware. It’s an incredibly clean and warm sound, which gives audio sources space to breathe, and gives your ears the chance to hear the subtle details you might otherwise have missed. It inspired us to revisit that holy grail of atmospheric in-game sound, Thief: The Dark Project, and 20 years on, it’s never sounded better. Fortnite and PUBG don’t offer quite the same amount of raw atmospherics, but their soundscapes become clearer using the Nu Audio and our BeyerDynamic DT770s than most gaming headsets allow. You can almost hear the chicken dinner roasting. Whether it improves gaming performance is a question best left to those at the apex of esports. There are too many other variables impacting our performance here at amateur (read: “terrible”) level, so there’s only so much you can read into the fact that we didn’t instantly become better battle royale or online shooter players. For us, it’s sufficient that the difference is so discernible compared with an onboard sound or USB gaming headset setup.
Except for its lackluster accompanying software, the Nu Audio does everything it’s supposed to: staggeringly better sound than you would achieve from onboard sound chips, ease of use, and strong I/O options. It’s not for home recording, folks, but it checks the boxes confidently for gamers.
Plus: Easy setup; clean,warm tone.
Minus: No EQ presets; software could do more.
Audio DSP XMOS xCORE-200 Outputs 2-channel (analog), 5.1-channel (S/PDIF) , Dynamic Range/Signal-to-Noise Ratio 123dB, Playback Format Up to 384kHz, 32-bit, Headphone Amp ADI OP275, Recording Format Up to 384kHz, 32-bit, I/O Stereo-out (RCA L/R), headphone-out (6.3mm), line-in (3.5mm), mic-in (3.5mm), optical-out (TOSLINK pass-through), front panel header, PCIe x1 Gen2 interface