A good stethoscope is an essential tool for many healthcare professionals today.
But with so many different brands today, it may be a little difficult for you to decide which is appropriate for you. So, we wrote this guide to help you identify the best stethoscope for you.
This isn't just some guesswork, we checked through many different brands and types to curate this list. Whether you're a doctor, nurse, EMT or medical student, you should be able to make an informed choice on which stethoscope is best for you.
We'll start off by listing the best and their remarkable features, we would dive in deeper into each stethoscope's review a bit later.
Tip: We notice a lot of people are concerned about the color of their stethoscopes, the good news is that most of the brands listed here come in many colors, so you should focus on their features instead.
Best stethoscopes in 2018
1. 3M Littmann Classic III- Overall Best
2. MDF Acoustica Deluxe Lightweight Dual-Head- Best Low-Budget
3. 3M Littmann Cardiology IV- Best in Acoustic Performance
4. ADC Adscope-Lite 609 Ultra Lightweight Clinician- Best Lightweight
5. Littmann 3200 Electronic Stethoscope- Best Electronic
The Best Stethoscopes in 2018- Detailed Review
1. 3M Littmann Classic III- Overall Best Stethoscope
This is by far our best stethoscope. If you currently work at a hospital, you’d have probably seen it being used by some of your colleagues. It is an extremely popular stethoscope worldwide and is known for its sensitivity, durability and easy maintenance.
Even though it isn’t the cheapest stethoscope in the market today, it is good value for your money.
If you are someone who is very focused on your clinical work and want a stethoscope that will last you a really long time, you should get this.
To be honest, if you're a medical student, you can use this stethoscope through medical school and it will still work very well 5 years into your practice as a doctor without you needing to change any of its parts. It's that durable.
One other advantage of this stethoscope is that it has a two-sided chest piece that can be used for adults and children.
Here are the pros and cons of this stethoscope:
- Excellent acoustic performance
- Two-sided chest piece (one suitable for adults and one suitable for children)
- Tunable diaphragm technology. You can hear different frequency sounds by changing the pressure you exert on the chest piece.
- Not easily stained and easy to clean. Not damaged by skin oils and alcohol.
- Comfortable ear tips
- Available in different colors and styles
- Long lasting. Usually has a 5-year warranty.
- Worldwide availability
- Not the lightest of stethoscopes in terms of weight (150g)
- Some people may find it a little expensive
2. MDF Acoustica Deluxe Lightweight Dual-Head- Best for a Low-Budget
If there’s anything that stands out about this stethoscope, it will be its affordability. If you need a stethoscope that can take care of basics while not costing you a lot, this is a good fit for you, it only costs a few bucks. It is our best stethoscope for people who just want minimum features in a stethoscope.
Despite its affordable price, it has a dual head for use in both adults and children, it has a no-chill diaphragm (it doesn’t feel cold when placed on a patient’s skin), and comfortable ear tips.
Another reason to love this product is that it comes with a spare diaphragm and extra pairs of ear tips, just in case you get yours damaged.
Here are its pros and cons.
- Very affordable
- Dual head for use in both children and adults
- Fairly good acoustic performance
- It comes with an ID tag to help you identify yours
- Latex-free tube
- Available in different colors
- Not exactly lightweight.
- Does not ship to countries outside the United States.
3. 3M Littmann Cardiology IV- Best in Acoustic Performance
This stethoscope is all about sensitivity, clarity, and durability. If you aren’t bothered about cost but want a very high quality, long-lasting and clear stethoscope, you should get this one. It is the best stethoscope for cardiologists.
It has perhaps the best acoustic performance available, has a double-lumen tube (it is remarkably more comfortable on your neck than most stethoscopes) and can be used for both adult and pediatric patients easily.
You could easily discard your current stethoscope and opt for this if you tested it once, there is very little background noise. It has a tunable diaphragm which you can use to listen to both high and low frequency sounds clearly. All you’ll need to do is adjust the amount of pressure you exert on the chest piece.
Here are the pros and cons of this stethoscope.
- Top of the range acoustic performance
- Decreased background noise
- Next-generation durable tube (non-latex)
- Comfortable when worn around your neck
- Soft ear tips
- Available in different colors
- 7-year warranty
- Relatively high price
4. ADC Adscope-Lite 609 Ultra Lightweight- Best Lightweight
As its name implies, this stethoscope is known for one thing: it’s lightweight. At just 100g, it’s about 50% lighter than common Littmann stethoscopes, making it the best stethoscope for those who care about stethoscope weight.
This means it’s very easy to carry around and you can easily keep it around your neck for a long period without feeling uncomfortable.
It has a dual head, usable in both pediatric and adult patients. It’s not the most sensitive stethoscope, meaning you may not be able to listen to all those ‘hard to hear’ heart murmurs, but it is sure useful at the basic level. You may not want to use this if you’re a cardiology resident doctor.
One more thing you should know about this stethoscope is that it is very affordable.
- Very lightweight
- Very cheap
- Dual head
- Comes with a spare diaphragm and an extra pair of ear tips
- 5-year warranty
Not the best acoustic performance
5. Littmann 3200 Electronic Stethoscope- Best Electronic
This is a trendy, modern and very sensitive stethoscope built for ‘techy’ medics and is the best stethoscope for those that prefer some technology on every instrument.
It has many advanced features that help to lower background noise by about 85%, making auscultation an awesome experience. It is very sensitive and can amplify sounds by up to 24 times!
It has a functional LCD screen that displays the sound level, battery percentage, and even the patient’s heart rate. It also has the ability to record and save up to twelve 30 second clips that you can replay for your patients to listen to, attach to reports and review with your colleagues.
Now, you may not need all these features, but many medics may like to have a digital stethoscope that clearly stands out from others, laden with technology. A downside, however, is its very high price.
- Usable digital stethoscope
- Eliminates most background noise
- Very sensitive (also amplifies sound)
- Non-chill diaphragm
- Next-generation tubing (non-latex)
- Audio recording
- Bluetooth capabilities
- It is very expensive
- Technical problems are not uncommon
- Not the best value for money
- Only 2 years warranty (relatively low for its price)
What To Look For In A Stethoscope
When looking for the best stethoscope for you, you should consider a fully functional, sensitive and durable stethoscope that can help you in clinical activities like blood pressure checks, listening for heart sounds and lung auscultation.
We understand that you don’t want a stethoscope that will last just three months or one that will produce muffled sounds or one that isn’t aesthetically pleasing.
This is why we have spent several hours reviewing different brands and products, looking for features that would make auscultation a pleasant thing to look forward to.
If you wondered what qualities we used to come up with this list, we examined things like personal experiences, general reviews, price, value for money, functionality, comfort, ease of use and of course sensitivity.
Here are some features to look for in a stethoscope:
1. Acoustic Performance:
This is perhaps the most important quality a good stethoscope should have. Afterall, the primary function of a stethoscope is to let you listen to sounds clearly and audibly.
If a stethoscope has bad acoustics, the sounds will be muffled and you may not be able to identify the Korotkoff sounds easily when checking a patient's blood pressure using a manual sphygmomanometer. Also, you may not be able to identify those all-important crepitations or rhonci when auscultating the chest, listening for lung sounds.
This is why every good stethoscope must have a good acoustic performance.
2. Chest-Piece Style:
Stethoscope chest-pieces come in two styles: The single head chest-piece and the dual head chest piece.
What's the difference?
This single head chest-piece is primarily only used for one category of patients, either adults or children. While the dual head has two different diaphragms for listening to the chest of both adults and children. You can decide to use either diaphragm by simply turning a valve near the tube.
If you don't do much chest auscultation in your field and only need a stethoscope for checking blood pressure manually, a single chest piece would do the job. Also, if you're a pediatrician or pediatric nurse or physician attending only to children or adults respectively, you may not need a dual chest-pieced stethoscope.
However, if you're a general practitioner, it may be more appropriate to buy a dual chest-pieced stethoscope so it will be easy for to care for both children and adults with the same stethoscope.
An ideal stethoscope should be comfortable to use. What does this mean? The ear tips shouldn't be poking your ears too hard.
The ear tips should be made of a very comfortable material that should soothe your ears, not poke them. I have personally used several stethoscopes and I can tell you that uncomfortable ear tips can affect how well you use a stethoscope. If it pokes to hard, you may not be patient enough to wait for the sounds you should pick up.
Imagine checking the blood pressure of a patient while having the ear tips persistently hurting your ears, you'll not want to check it twice (as you should). An ideal stethoscope should have soft, acoustic and comfortable ear tips.
Another comfort parameter to consider is the tube length, a very short tube would mean you have to bend over acutely to auscultate. This can be very uncomfortable or painful if you already have back pain. A good stethoscope should have an adequately long tube (with excellent acoustics), so you don't have to bend over while listening to the chest of your patient.
I don't know who invented the practice of hanging a stethoscope around the neck, but that practice has definitely gone viral. If you glance through the emergency department of many hospitals, you'll definitely see some medics with their stethoscopes around their necks.
Perhaps they do this not to misplace their stethoscopes or to have it handy when they need to assess a patient really quickly.
This habit is one of many reasons why a stethoscope shouldn't be too heavy, you should have a stethoscope that will be easy to move around with without you being conscious that you are carrying anything.
Except you use stethoscopes very infrequently, durability matters. If using a stethoscope is part of your daily life as a health professional, you should get one that will last very long. A stethoscope is arguably one of the most used pieces of equipment in hospitals and health facilities, and should not break down or look terrible after just a few months of use.
How then do you identify a durable stethoscope?
The secret is simple: look at the warranty you're given. Most durable stethoscopes have a long warranty period. The manufacturer knows the parts won't break off in a few weeks, and if this happens you can claim your warranty and get it replaced or change the faulty part for free.
Stethoscopes have different durabilities, with Littmann leading the pack. The average Littmann stethoscope has a warranty period of about 2 years for the 'low-end' stethoscopes and 5-7 years for the 'high-end', specialist stethoscopes.
People need stethoscopes for different things. When purchasing a stethoscope, it important to buy one that is cost-effective, that is, at the right price for what you need it for.
What do I mean? If you are an infrequent user of a stethoscope and need it perhaps to place on your desk or in your car, you may not need to spend much. However, if you're an emergency nurse, doctor or cardiologist, you'll want to buy one that has very good acoustics and is easy to use for the right price.
Now that we have discussed features to look for in a stethoscope, let us drill down on an important question: How much do stethoscopes cost?
The price of a stethoscope varies based on the brand, quality, and specifications. They range from about $15 to $400.
The cheapest ones have the very basic features, with not much technology or durable parts, while the high-end ones have some advanced features and solid long-lasting parts.
For instance, electronic stethoscopes are more expensive than traditional ones for obvious reasons. Many of them have digital screens, advanced acoustics, and even Bluetooth capabilities.
Parts of A Stethoscope
A stethoscope has many parts. It's important to understand each of these parts so that you'll know which part to request for when trying to get a replacement of a faulty part.
Also, knowing the parts of a stethoscope will help you understand how they all function together to give you a good auscultation. Here's a list of the parts of a stethoscope, we'll explain each one thereafter.
- Ear tips
- Ear tubes
- Chest Piece
These are the soft parts of the stethoscope that goes into both ears. As we stated earlier, they go a long way in determining how comfortable a stethoscope will feel in general. The softer they are, the more comfortable you will feel.
The ear tips are made of rubber or silicone and are firmly attached to the ear tubes. Low-quality stethoscopes usually have their ear pieces fall off the ear tubes easily or are quickly broken down or torn. The good news though is that most stethoscopes come with extra ear tips, just in case yours falls off or rips apart. The extra tips usually come in different sizes.
Generally, when buying a stethoscope, it is important to ensure the model you have chosen comes with extra ear tips because if the installed ear tips fall off, your stethoscope would be unusable till you get them replaced.
The ear tubes are the metal parts of the stethoscope that link the main stethoscope tubing with the ear tips. Their function is to transmit sound to the ear tips.
They are typically made of aluminum or steel and are ribbed at their end to ensure a tight fitting with the ear tips. Also, the ear tubes are angulated to fit the anatomical orientation of the ears, they bend forward and downward to make auscultation easy.
The headset is simply comprised of the ear tubes, the ear tip, and the tension springs. If you wondered what the tension springs are, here's a quick explanation.
If you look at a picture of a stethoscope, the two ear tubes usually cross each other in an 'X- shape'. This is the job of the tension springs, they ensure that the ear tips stay firmly in your ears when you auscultate by applying some tension across the ear tubes. If you pull the two ear tubes of a stethoscope apart, you'll notice they'll give some resistance and then return to their normal 'X-shape'. This happens because of the tension springs.
The tubing is the flexible part of the stethoscope, it helps to transmit sound from the chest piece to the ear tubes.
Some stethoscopes have a single tube while others have double tubes. The double-tubed stethoscopes are supposed to have a better acoustic performance but that isn't always the case. The presence of two tubes causes an additional unwanted sound caused by the rubbing together of the two tubes.
An improvement in this design is to have two separate sound paths (double lumen) in a single tube as seen in Littmann cardiology stethoscope series.
The durability of the tube matters, some brands offer tubes that have some resistance to body oils and alcohol. This is important because stethoscopes are everyday tools for some health workers, and it is often placed on different surfaces and parts of the body. A stethoscope should have some resistance to many fluids and its surroundings.
The chest piece is the part of the stethoscope that collects the sound from the environment (the patient's skin) and transmits it to the tube. It is made up of a stem, diaphragm and or bell.
This metallic part of the stethoscope directly connects the tubing with other parts of the chest piece. In dual-head chest pieces, it has a switchable valve that makes you able to select which of the heads you want to listen to per time.
The diaphragm is the round surface of the chest piece that directly picks up sounds and vibrations from the environment. They come in different materials. For example, Littmann models have a tunable diaphragm. What this means is that the more pressure you apply to the chest piece when auscultating, the higher the sound frequency you can hear and vice versa.
Some stethoscopes have two diaphragms with the bell portion closed. This means that you can enjoy a better sound quality when trying to pick up lower frequencies with the smaller bell diaphragm. A practical example is when you want to listen to the chest of a child, you won't need to look for another stethoscope, all you need to do is to switch the valve on the stethoscope stem to open up the bell's sound pathway.
The bell is the smaller acoustic surface on dual-head chest pieces. It is usually lined with a non-chill sleeve that can be replaced with a small diaphragm.
It is better to use the bell when caring for thin patients or in pediatrics.
How Does A Stethoscope Work?
When stethoscopes were first invented, they looked a lot different from their modern counterparts. Stethoscopes were usually a hollow straight tube with a single earpiece and a single auscultation surface. A lot has changed today to make stethoscopes carry out their function- to enhance body sounds and transmit them to the ears.
How does this happen?
The principle is pretty straightforward. The diaphragm picks up the sounds and vibrations from the patient's skin and then transmits the sound through the chest piece stem, Sound then passes from the stem to the flexible tube, which forwards the sound to the ears via the two ear tubes and the ear tips.
The listener then tries to understand the pattern of the sounds heard to determine what the inference is.
How To Use A Stethoscope
Stethoscopes are used for several clinical activities like measuring blood pressure, listening to heart sounds, auscultating the lung fields and even listening for bowel sounds. These are skills that need to be learned and practiced in the clinic.
As with any clinical skill, it takes time and continuous practice to master the use of your stethoscope for different procedures. As you keep using yours and learning how to distinguish different body sounds, you will eventually become a pro at handling this symbolic medical equipment.
Caring For Your Stethoscope
Your stethoscope should be wiped once obviously dirty with a damp cloth. You should also clean the diaphragm with cotton swabs dipped in alcohol, to help disinfect it, especially when you have multiple patients to attend to in a short period. Failure to do this can lead to an involuntary spread of infections especially those affecting the skin.
Keep stethoscopes away from extreme temperatures, solvents, and oils as these could damage the rubber tubing. Also, don't subject your stethoscope to any sterilization process or immerse it in any liquid as this can permanently damage your stethoscope.
The ear tips and diaphragms are detachable, so you could temporarily remove them to properly clean your stethoscope when necessary and replace them when done.
Tip: Stethoscopes differ and so does their maintenance best practices. Always refer to your product instruction manual before using your stethoscope to see how to properly maintain yours.
Over To You
We have been able to discuss our 5 best stethoscopes and hopefully, you’ve been able to decide which one works for you. We are very open to updating this article as frequently as we can, so we will like to hear from you. Have you tried any of these stethoscopes? Kindly tell us your experience by using the comment section below. Also, If you feel there’s any stethoscope that deserves to be on this list, kindly drop a comment too.