The Nu Audio Pro comes as a standard stereo card for $199 and as a 7.1 surround kit for $299. The surround kit includes an additional daughterboard, which slots in above or below the main card and connects with a short DisplayPort cable. However, because this review is focused primarily at what role a sound card can play in a PC in 2020, I’m focusing on the lower-priced standard stereo solution in order to best evaluate the improvement in sound.
The top of the card features the company and product name, plus an “Engineered by Audio Note '' branding. EVGA is the company branding, manufacturing and selling this card, but British company Audio Note provides the circuitry and a handful of components.
The sound card installs into a PCIe x1 slot and gets power from a SATA power connector. There is no front-panel audio connector, and EVGA said this is because most cabling to the front panel audio connectors isn’t up to the standard of the sound card and can cause interference. I’ve experienced that first-hand when plugging in high-end headphones to the front of several PC cases, but would love for a way to bring the card’s pristine audio signal to the convenient front-panel ports.
In short, you’ll have to connect your audio device to the back of the sound card, where there are two RCA line-out connectors and an old-school 1/4-inch headphone jack. Mic in and line in come in the form of 3.5mm jacks, and there’s also an optical S/PDIF output. In keeping with high-end audio tradition, all the connectors are gold plated.
This being 2020, there’s RGB lighting on the side of the card. It’s lumped into three zones, each with plenty of LEDs, making for smooth, bright visuals. The driver offers a handful of different lighting effects, including a few reactive modes that listen to the sound. But these modes are laggy and lack intensity, so I recommend sticking to the standard effects. Interestingly, the classic audio level per channel effect is missing, which is a shame.
Tearing the card apart is a lengthy process, but it isn’t particularly difficult and you can do it without tearing any warranty stickers. Once opened, we can see the card’s internal layout.
On the right side near the reverse L-shaped copper bracket, are two MOSFETS that handle power delivery. Thermal pads spread heat through the sound card’s case and make contact with the MOSFETS, keeping them cool on both sides. Once running, the card gets pretty warm, with surface temperatures reaching beyond 47 degrees Celsius (116.6 degrees Fahrenheit) in a 21-degree ambient environment.
Down near the PCIe slot is the ASMedia ASM1042A USB controller, which tells us that this card is essentially a USB DAC. If EVGA were so inclined, it could reuse the circuitry to make an external version without any trouble.
Moving towards the outputs, we spot the AKM AK4493 DAC, which is capable of up to 32-bit 384 KHz playback -- but good luck finding content at that resolution or hearing the difference if you do. Even EVGA’s own sample music is of CD quality at 16-bit 44.1 KHz, which is more than adequate.
A centrally placed ADI LT1469 op-amp acts as the headphone amplifier, and is removable and swappable to your liking. The same goes for the ADI AD8056 op-amp at the top left, which drives the RCA line outputs.
Scattered all across the board are the various capacitors from the likes of Audio Note’s Seiryu units, Nichicon caps, AVX F95 audio caps and more. Lastly, engineer Andy Grove from Audio Note left his signature at the top left.
The card stands out with extremely good manufacturing quality. Our review unit has perfect soldering points and no flux residue, and almost all the components are laid out perfectly. The external casing is also well-made, and the sound card has a very premium feel.
Upon installation, the sound card wasn’t immediately recognized by Windows and required a driver. Overall, the driver has all the necessary features and little more. There are Nahimic audio effects, though I recommend leaving them off and listening to the card in its purest form. Depending on your listening preferences and equipment though, you may want to adjust the equalizer, which has a quick and advanced mode for finer controls.
The one major nuisance about the driver is that you can’t switch playback devices from the Windows Mixer in the notification area. To switch from speakers to headphones or vice versa, you’ll have to go through the driver interface each time you want to switch. If you’re someone who uses this tool regularly instead of the volume control on your speakers, it may bother you to have to open the driver tool multiple times a day to switch devices.
Another thing to note about the driver: when my card was set to any sampling rate above 24-bit 192 KHz, music streaming service Spotify ceased working. In practice though, this isn’t really an issue as there is no audible difference between 24-bit 192 KHz and the highest 32-bit 384 KHz modes. The highest-definition Master Quality Authenticated (MQA) recordings “only” go up to 24-bit 96 KHz anyway.