At the age of 12, Kevin Nelson’s mom bought and brought home a brand new organ. It was making this noise in the house and Kevin wanted to know why. So he tore apart the organ, took the speakers out, and figured out what made it work. Needless to say, he was grounded for it. In fact, according to Kevin, he’s still grounded to this day.
Kevin Nelson, founder of Zealth Audio, knew that his curiosity for the way things worked started at an early age and that curiosity continues to be something that fuels his interest and passion for the speaker-building business. However, the path to where he is today has certainly been rocky.
“I finished 11th grade in Hastings, Nebraska and decided to leave school and join the Navy,” recalled Kevin. “I was in the Navy for eight years total, but spent three of those years overseas. I was a nuke welder on submarines.”
Throughout those years, Kevin also learned the auto and diesel mechanic industry and spent a lot of time in that field. But his heart was always in audio.
“I had a dream one night about building a certain speaker cabinet design, so I woke up the next day and I made it… and pretty much went from there,” Kevin explained.
He spent the next few years working out at Camp Pendleton switching out computers. Then, one day, things took a turn for the worse.
He came home to find his live-in girlfriend had been unfaithful and once she left, he realized he was in over his head. His contracted job at Camp Pendleton had come to an end and he soon realized he couldn’t afford to pay the rent.
Kevin lost his girlfriend, his job, his apartment, and with only a few hundred dollars to his name, he went down to San Diego, got a hotel for a week and tried to find other work.
A week later, he walked out the door of that hotel with no job and no money.
In the meantime, he’d do odd jobs here and there to make what money he could. He reached out to the military but there just wasn’t anything for him. “San Diego is full of homeless veterans and the resources are pretty low,” Kevin said. “I’d go to Home Depot and stand outside hoping for a contractor to pick me up to work for the day. I’d do odd jobs here or there to make $50-$60 a day.”
However, San Diego isn’t cheap and by the end of a long day of doing contracting work, Kevin would be dirty and would need to go to the thrift store and buy new pants, get a hotel room to clean up, and then find himself having spent all that he’d made in a day. Saving up for an apartment was nearly impossible since most apartments in San Diego required both first month’s and last month’s rent.
This continued in a vicious cycle. Kevin went in and out of homeless shelters, but because the shelters had such strict hours and regulations if you wanted to be able to get in to eat, shower and sleep, having the time to prepare himself for a job interview AND work day laboring jobs was just too much to balance.
Kevin was homeless for almost five years. That whole time, Kevin’s dream of building speakers never left him.
“One day I was staying in a shelter in Oceanside called Brother Benos shelter,” Kevin explained. “This whole time I’d talk about the speakers and the dream I had. I always carried a picture of the speakers with me. Well, this one guy had a garage and said to me, ‘Do you want to build a pair?’ And I said, ‘Yeah!’ So, I went and worked out of his garage for a couple days and then put the speakers in storage.”
During what little free time he had, Kevin would spend time at the library reading, researching and learning as much as he could in the hopes that luck would come his way.
He found the website CNET and decided to take a chance and email them about his speakers. Kevin ended up getting ahold of Steve Guttenberg and Steve said that he’d do a story on Kevin. This was in 2009. CNET ran the story and all of a sudden Kevin got overwhelmed.
“I got thousands of emails, a whole bunch of investors, people wanting 50 percent of the profits… all kinds of stuff started happening,” he recalled. “I got a bunch of orders but I couldn’t fill them because I didn’t have any money. It just happened too quickly.
“Everyone that reached out to me got greedy and just wanted big money out of it, but I kept my dream out there in the hopes that someone, anyone, would bit on them.”
In 2012, after an old friend from middle school and high school contacted him through Facebook, Kevin moved back to Hastings, Nebraska. That old friend happens to now be his girlfriend!
Once he got back to Hastings, Kevin had a little bit of money, so he began buying, fixing up and reselling cars for a profit since he had past experience in the auto industry.
With that money he was making, Kevin started Zealth Audio and started finally building his speakers. He now has a two bay shop with a demonstration room and everything.
“It’s still just me doing it all,” explained Kevin. “After they saw the story, CES contacted me and gave me a room for free at the show and then I also went to the Rocky Mountain Audio Fest and sold four pairs of speakers there. I also have some stores in New York that want to hear them… my next step is to take that trip to New York!”
What makes Kevin’s speakers different than any other high-end home audio speaker is that there’s a right AND left channel in each cabinet – it’s crossfire imaging. “It’s full dimensional sound,” Kevin boasted. “These take away the center and back speakers… they fill the room right up. It really sets up one hell of a sound stage.”
And, to top it all off, the speakers cost under $1,000.
Kevin is truly a man with an entrepreneurial spirit, has a dedication to his craft like no one else, and the motivation to get it done.
To find out more about Zealth Audio speakers (or if you’re interested in hearing them for yourself), go here.
Author’s Note: Speaking with Kevin was truly a pleasure and an honor. He was extremely humble, very honest, funny, witty, and clearly very smart. I think the industry could use a few more Kevin Nelsons.