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Review and Measurements of EVGA NU Audio PC Card

amirm

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#1
This is a review and detailed measurements of the EVGA NU Audio PC Audio card. It includes stereo output, stereo mic and line in, in addition to headphone output. This is a collaboration with UK audio company Audio Note so expectations are high as far as its performance. As it should be as the cost was US $250 when I purchased it. I see a US $60 discount now on both Amazon and EVGA website bringing the price down to US $190 including shipping. That is still more money than Creative labs sound cards but hopefully the NU Audio performs better.

The card is still in my machine so sorry about the dark image:
EVGA NU Audio PCI-E DAC Headphone Amplifier and ADC Interface Card Review.jpg

The lights are RGB and nicely fade from one color to the other. You almost want to sit there and watch them. So on that front, they are nicely catering to typing PC/gaming enthusiast.

I can't crawl on the floor to take a picture of the connectors so here is a shot from EVGA website:
EVGA NU Audio PCI-E DAC Headphone Amplifier and ADC Interface Card Back Panel Review.jpg


There are provisions for changing ("rolling") op-amps -- something I recommend staying away from.

It was a breath of fresh air to find proper RCA connectors in the back rather than 3.5 mm that Creative and others use for their cards. Same for the 1/4 inch headphone jack. Line In however is 3.5 mm as you see.

There is a solid shield on the card by the way and doesn't come "naked" like shown above.

The architecture of the unit is a PCI-E to USB interface and there, is a USB DAC and ADC. So essentially an internal version of what would normally sit outside your PC.

Base Windows 10 driver allowed the line out interfaces to work as is with the built-in class drivers which was nice. However, the output from headphone outs was very low (0.2 volts) and there were no Windows controls to change it. To fix that I had to install their driver package. The driver package was a fraction of the size of the massive crapware Creative throws at you which was nice.

Alas, the experience while not nearly as horrendous as Creative, was still rough. On first run of the setup, it asked me to reboot before installing the driver. Strange. After reboot it ran for a bit and then instructed me to connect the hardware. Connect the hardware? The board is still inside the machine. This is the same error message that comes from some USB DACs. There, you disconnect and reconnect the USB cable to get it to proceed. How the heck one does that here? You can't unplug the board, nor have access to internal USB.

I rebooted and tried again and while this time I did not get an error, I did not get any kind of control panel to change the settings either. One more reboot and all of a sudden the control panel popped up. There, there were independent headphone level which I maxed out for testing.

Amazing that in this day and age, Windows and theise IHVs can't properly expose simple features like headphone output.

One nice thing was an ASIO driver which I then used for all the rest of the test including ADC input.

DAC Audio Measurements
Here is our dashboard:

EVGA NU Audio PCI-E DAC Headphone Amplifier and ADC Interface Card Line Out Audio Measurements.png


I was disappointed to see that the card cannot reach 2 volts output. It is not a big failing though as it is close enough.

Distortion is not competitive with the budget DACs we are used with harmonic distortion clearly visible. It sets SINAD to 98 dB which just falls short of the competent, green bucket of DACs we have tested:

Best Audio DACs Measured.png


I did however like the clean noise floor in the FFT.

Performance seems good across the board starting with Intermodulation distortion test versus digital level:
EVGA NU Audio PCI-E DAC Headphone Amplifier and ADC Interface Card Line Out IMD Audio Measurem...png


Linearity was excellent showing attention to detail:

EVGA NU Audio PCI-E DAC Headphone Amplifier and ADC Interface Card Line Linearity Out Audio Me...png


Jitter had a few bits here and there but good, low noise floor and nothing of substance to worry about:
EVGA NU Audio PCI-E DAC Headphone Amplifier and ADC Interface Card Line Out Jitter Audio Measu...png


Our 32-tone test did not upset it either:

EVGA NU Audio PCI-E DAC Headphone Amplifier and ADC Interface Card Line Out Multitone Audio Me...png


THD+N versus frequency was likewise well behaved:
EVGA NU Audio PCI-E DAC Headphone Amplifier and ADC Interface Card Line Out THD vs Frequency A...png


Same story repeats with dynamic range:
EVGA NU Audio PCI-E DAC Headphone Amplifier and ADC Interface Card Line Out Dynamic Range Audi...png


But pretty large shortfall relative to spec which likely is from the DAC chip they use, rather than actual implementation (or a non-standard way of running this test).

Headphone Output Audio Measurements
Most important here is power versus distortion. First into 300 ohm:

EVGA NU Audio PCI-E DAC Headphone Amplifier and ADC Interface Card HP Out Power into 300 ohm A...png


That is very good amount of power, beating even Topping DX3 Pro. Sure, noise and distortion is higher but that has been the same story so far.

33 Ohm load upsets the card to some extent though:

EVGA NU Audio PCI-E DAC Headphone Amplifier and ADC Interface Card HP Out Power into 33 ohm Au...png


Was disappointed to see one channel get a lot worse than the other. Likely has a less optimal path to power supply.

Still, on the audible part which is power, there is plenty of that here to the tune of 1.1 watt.

Both of these predict very good subjective headphone listening with ability to drive majority of headphones in the market with ease.

Output impedance was comfortably low:
EVGA NU Audio PCI-E DAC Headphone Amplifier and ADC Interface Card HP Out Output Impedance Aud...png


ADC Audio Measurements
I started to expand my tests for analog to digital converters. Let me know if there are other tests I should develop.

Here is our dashboard view:

EVGA NU Audio PCI-E DAC Headphone Amplifier and ADC Interface Card Line In Audio Measurements.png


Max level is reached around 1.9 volts input. 2 Volts saturates and creates distortion. Unlike the DAC, we have a lot of noise components in FFT spectrum. They are well below the distortion products though and overall SINAD shows good results:

Best ADC Measured and Reviewed.png


That is a big step above Sound Blaster products. And oh, someone had asked me about Behringer. You see the SINAD results above. The EVGA NU Audio beats that too by a good margin.

Dynamic range likewise exceeds 16 bit audio:

EVGA NU Audio PCI-E DAC Headphone Amplifier and ADC Interface Card Line In Dynamic range Audio...png


Here is THD+N versus level:

EVGA NU Audio PCI-E DAC Headphone Amplifier and ADC Interface Card Line In THD vs Level Audio ...png


We have lower noise and distortion than Asus Xonar U7 MKII.

Linearity is not that great but much more well behaved than other PC cards:

EVGA NU Audio PCI-E DAC Headphone Amplifier and ADC Interface Card Line In Linearity Audio Mea...png


Nice that the capture just gets noisy rather than producing garbage or quantization noise (steps).

IMD versus level is new so no reference:
EVGA NU Audio PCI-E DAC Headphone Amplifier and ADC Interface Card Line In IMD Audio Measureme...png


You can see the saturation at near 2 volt input.

Frequency response was flat to 20 kHz using 44.1 kHz sampling:

EVGA NU Audio PCI-E DAC Headphone Amplifier and ADC Interface Card Line In Frequency Response ...png


Conclusions
The mention of Audio Note implies high-end audio performance which EVGA NU Audio fails to achieve. All is not lost though. The hardware implementation of DAC, headphone output and ADC are very good. You can do better at lower price on the DAC side. But it is impossible to get all three at this price using desktop hardware based on testing I have done so far.

The main issue is software drivers and hassles of PC. If you can get past that, I can recommend the EVGA NU Audio at its new price.

Something tells me this card is not selling well and hence the $60 discount. The PC market is very price sensitive. So if you want it, you may want to buy it now before it goes out of production.

This card is available for sale if someone wants it.

------------
As always, questions, comments, recommendations, etc. are welcome.

With taxes, I paid nearly $270 for this card. :( Please donate some money so I don't stay depressed for long using: https://www.audiosciencereview.com/forum/index.php?threads/how-to-support-audio-science-review.8150/
 
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Veri

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#2
Ahh, was waiting for this. The main SINAD is a little worse than in their own testing on youtube (although output level is dead-on? cherry picked device ;)?) but overall not a bad sound card for a PCI-E DAC. It's more akin to an USB DAC put on a PCI-E bridge but I digress; the ADC is pretty good! Not bad for an all-in-one sound card package indeed, could do a lot worse!




Thank you very much @amirm for the steady flow of reviews these past days/weeks !!!
 

amirm

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#4
There is a typo in the Power vs THD+N graph for 300 Ohm, it says max power 123 mW but that's for the DX3 Pro, it should be 195 mW.
Thanks. Fixed.
 

amirm

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#5
Ahh, was waiting for this. The main SINAD is a little worse than in their own testing on youtube (although output level is dead-on? cherry picked device ;)?)
Interesting. The board seems to be sitting on a box and not in a PC? Could be that they are directly going to the USB Input as they don't show all the noise I see in my FFT. When I get a chance I will test again.
 

Veri

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#6
Interesting. The board seems to be sitting on a box and not in a PC?
That did seem strange to me, it's not entirely clear what is powering the device in their test.
 

mkawa

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#8
and the pcie riser is probably connected to one of their motherboards and the sata power to one of their power supplies.
 
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#11
Too bad they didn't send one card to you ultimately.

and the pcie riser is probably connected to one of their motherboards and the sata power to one of their power supplies.
Yeah I'd guess they did their best to reduce interferences, pcie riser to move it out of the case and independent psu to limit noise.
 

LLL

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#12
Thank you for this. At $190, it is not bad at all. It can make someone's multimedia PC sing pretty nicely.
 

mkawa

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#13
yah, the fact that it fits inside an htpc and doesn't break the bank is a plus

also it was on sale for 150 a week ago. i suspect the price will be even better come black friday.
 

somebodyelse

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#15
Interesting. The board seems to be sitting on a box and not in a PC? Could be that they are directly going to the USB Input as they don't show all the noise I see in my FFT. When I get a chance I will test again.
Something's covering the PCI-e contacts at the start of the video, but it's not clear what. My guess is it's a PCI-e 1x extender.
EDIT: after using a different player to freeze the first frame I see it's a full length slot rather than a 1x one. Perhaps the extra distance given by the extender is reducing the noise?
 
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Tks

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#16
Bonus points to who can appraise the cost of some of the gear found in this video.

I think the only reason EVGA started making sound cards was due to their CEO.

 

mkawa

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#17
Something's covering the PCI-e contacts at the start of the video, but it's not clear what. My guess is it's a PCI-e 1x extender.
EDIT: after using a different player to freeze the first frame I see it's a full length slot rather than a 1x one. Perhaps the extra distance given by the extender is reducing the noise?
signal quality is only going to decrease by adding to cable length. pcie signaling was not designed to travel over very long cables. however, because this card uses a pci-usb bridge, some signal degradation is OK -- usb is packetized and much lower bandwidth and higher latency than a pcie lane. so, that's a wash. also, the extra lanes available that aren't electrically connected well, aren't electrically connected. they are a non-issue.

power quality via SATA port to a high quality pc power supply should be excellent regardless of how long the cable is. see jonnyguru reviews for the kind of regulation that is now expected in modern PSUs. as you will see, evga makes some very high quality power supplies. it's kind of a given that if you care about pc audio quality, you should invest in a high quality power supply, so i don't think they're cheating here.

as @Tene said, they are probably getting the most mileage by pulling it out of the case. although it has some stylish shielding, there is a ton of high frequency crap flying around as you get physically closer to the motherboard and other internal peripherals. that said, they are almost certainly running it on a test bench or caseless PC, and that's the most pedestrian option. they design tons of pcie devices there, and it's entirely possible that the test board is not even close to a motherboard form factor that you or i would recognize.

bottom line is that i don't think they're cheating in that video, but amir's measurements illustrate a slightly less ideal environment that is more likely to match the pc that you would put it in. it also seems to reveal under-regulation of the power rails (or not enough reservoir?) and/or other design weaknesses.
 

Blumlein 88

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#18
Might be nice to check aliasing in the ADC. @amirm

Don't how you'd prefer to do that.

Here is where I sweep a signal up to 96 khz and feed an ADC recording at 48 khz. Background goes to gray at -120 dbFS. The lower one is the signal input to the ADC.
1569470318576.png


Here is where I created white noise at -4 dbFS in a 192 khz format. Fed it to the ADC at 48 khz sample rates. I had filtered the noise to remove everything below 27 khz. You can see this raises the noise floor of the ADC. Lower panel is the input signal spectrogram.
1569470514308.png


You may simply prefer to feed it a couple tones like 25 khz and 30 khz. Then you'd see any aliasing of those tones recording at 44 or 48 khz as well as if the analog circuitry in the ADC has any IMD back into the audio band.
 
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#19
Considering the price I kinda expected a bit more. That's closer to AE-9 which is likely a better performer (not sure about headphone out power though) if AE-5 gives any indication.

Not a fan of these USB devices on a PCI-E card designs. Those should be external devices. Internal ones should be native.
 

digicidal

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#20
Considering the measured performance of the $6K+ dedicated DAC measured recently... you could get this card and one of the most powerful PC's available... save a ton of money, get better performance, and hey free PC as well! ;)
 

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