Whether you’re a critical care doctor in a busy emergency room or you simply need to take occasional blood pressure readings in a quiet medical office, you probably rely on the diagnostic capabilities of a stethoscope. The best stethoscopes allow you to quickly hone in on heartbeats, lung functions, and other internal sounds. Some stethoscopes are developed for broad clinical use, while others are designed with the specific needs of cardiologists or pediatricians in mind. Which stethoscope will best meet your needs? Our guide to the best stethoscopes on the market will help you find the perfect one for your practice.
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1. How Does a Stethoscope Work?
The round surface of the chest piece, also known as the diaphragm, picks up vibrations from the patient’s skin and transmits them up through the flexible tube to the ear tips. Stethoscopes are often used to listen to heart and lung sounds as well as other internal sounds in the human body. Stethoscopes are used to help diagnose a range of medical conditions.
2. What Is the Most Important Characteristic to Look for in a Stethoscope?
The best stethoscopes have high-quality acoustic performance; that is probably the single most important factor to look at when shopping around. The primary reason you’re using a stethoscope, after all, is to hear clearly the functions of the heart, lungs, and other internal organs. Look first and foremost for a stethoscope that will allow you to hear the low- and high-frequency sounds you are listening for, even in a noisy or chaotic environment.
3. How Can I Tell If a Stethoscope Will Be Comfortable to Use?
The best stethoscopes have fully adjustable earpieces that ensure a comfortable fit. Adjustable earpieces allow you to customize the headset for your own personal fit so the stethoscope won’t hurt your ears over time. The earpieces of a stethoscope may be either soft or rigid, depending on the overall design of the piece, and both types of earpieces should be comfortable. The ability to customize your headset’s fit is the biggest factor in determining user comfort.
4. What Kind of Stethoscope Is Most Commonly Used?
Acoustic stethoscopes are the more commonly-used type of stethoscope. These stethoscopes allow medical providers to hear blood pressure sounds and heartbeats and serve a wide range of diagnostic purposes. Electronic stethoscopes have more advanced capabilities, but their high-tech features aren’t always needed.
Electronic stethoscopes allow you to hear sounds of different frequencies and are capable of capturing electrocardiogram data and oxygen saturation levels. Some electronic stethoscopes can even transmit data via Bluetooth to another device. Their steep price is another reason why electronic stethoscopes aren’t more widely-used.
5. Should I Consider the Weight of a Stethoscope?
Weight is definitely something to consider when selecting a stethoscope. It’s a good idea to hold a stethoscope in your hand and get a feel for its weight before purchasing it. Keep in mind that most medical professionals wear their stethoscopes around their neck or keep it folded in a lab coat pocket. Either way, you’ll be carrying your stethoscope around with you for much of the day. Select one that has a comfortable weight and is not too heavy.
6. How Do I Decide Which Stethoscope I Need?
It depends on what type of medical work you’ll be doing with the stethoscope. If you’ll be using the stethoscope for routine blood pressure work and occasional patient examinations, a moderately-priced piece of equipment without a lot of bells and whistles will suffice.
If you’re a primary care provider, or if you work in an emergency room or in another demanding environment, you may want to look for a stethoscope with multiple sized diaphragms and built-in comfort features. A stethoscope that minimizes external noises so you can focus on the high- and low-frequency sounds you are looking for is also a good option for primary care providers.
How We Reviewed the Best Stethoscopes
We took a range of factors into consideration when evaluating the best stethoscopes. We looked at the quality of each stethoscope’s construction, as well as its durability. We also examined each stethoscope’s ability to be used in a range of professional settings and on patients of all sizes. We also considered extra features, like easily-adjustable headsets and durable tubing.
Overall Price Range of the Best Stethoscopes
The best stethoscopes range in price from $15 to nearly $200 and can be purchased from medical suppliers and/or online marketplaces like Amazon. More-expensive stethoscopes can easily pick up high- and low-frequency sounds, even in challenging and noisy environments. Pricier models are also designed for the comfort of the medical professional and the patient, with features like latex-free tubing and non-chill rims. However, it’s important to remember that, depending on how you plan to use your stethoscope, the priciest model on the market is not always the best stethoscope for your needs.
What We Reviewed
The 3M Littmann Classic II S.E. Stethoscope features high acoustic sensitivity, a dual-sided chest piece, and a tunable diaphragm. The headset tension on this stethoscope can be easily adjusted for head size and comfort. The tubing on this stethoscope is made with natural latex, a benefit to patients with sensitive skin, and the tubing retains its shape and flexibility even after being tightly folded into a pocket. Available in 6 different colors, the 3M Littmann Classic II comes with a 3-year warranty and is suitable for use in a variety of clinical environments.
The MDF Rose Gold MD stethoscope delivers clear acoustics for heart, bowel, and lung sounds, making it suitable for professional use in a range of clinical settings. This stethoscope has an ultra-sensitive diaphragm, extra-thick latex-free white PVC tubing, and super-soft silicone eartips.
Constructed out of durable stainless steel, the MDF Rose Gold MD also has a headset that is anatomically-angled at 15 degrees, ensuring a precise and comfortable fit for the medical provider. This beautifully-designed stethoscope comes with a lifetime warranty and a free parts-for-life program.
The Dixie Ems Purple Blood Pressure and Sprague Stethoscope Kit is a complete kit featuring a matching stethoscope, blood pressure cuff, and accessories for both. The eartubes on the stethoscope are adjustable for a comfortable fit, and extra earpieces are included and can be swapped out to make a custom fit tailored solely to you. The stethoscope also has 22-inch tubing, 3 bells, and 2 diaphragms. This complete kit, which is available in 10 different colors and comes with a matching carrying case, is an affordable option for medical professionals on the go.
The 3M Littmann Lightweight II stethoscope performs reliably when taking blood pressure readings and making limited assessments of patients. This stethoscope is designed to fit easily under blood pressure cuffs, and the tunable diaphragm accurately captures low and high-frequency sounds. The 3M Littmann Lightweight II is designed for comfort, with an anatomically-angled headset and a non-chill rim on the diaphragm. Available in 7 different colors, this stethoscope comes with a 2-year warranty. It’s an entry-level stethoscope that’s ideal for nurses and students.
The 3M Littmann Cardiology IV Diagnostic Stethoscope is a high-quality piece of medical equipment that performs well in challenging environments such as the Emergency Department of any Intensive Care Unit. This stethoscope has a tunable diaphragm that allows clinicians to hear different-frequency sounds simply by adjusting the pressure.
The dual-lumen tubing combines two sound paths into one tube, eliminating the rubbing noise associated with some traditional tubes. The 3M Littmann Cardiology IV has a larger chestpiece and a deeper bell than some other stethoscopes. This stethoscope also has a headset tension that can be adjusted for head size and comfort. The 3M Littmann Cardiology IV is available in 9 different colors and comes with a 7-year warranty.
The 3M Littman 2141 Master Classic II Stethoscope combines ergonomic design with acoustic sensitivity. This stethoscope has a tunable diaphragm that captures low- and high-frequency sounds by adjusting its pressure.
Several features of this stethoscope build in comfort, including an anatomically designed headset and a non-chill diaphragm. Latex-free materials also mean this stethoscope can be used by on allergy-sensitive patients. Available in 9 different colors, this stethoscope comes with a 3-year warranty. It’s an ideal choice for students and professionals and works well in a range of clinical environments.
The 3M Littmann 2122 Classic II Pediatric Stethoscope is specifically-designed for use on smaller patients. It has a dual-sided chestpiece that has high acoustic sensitivity, making it easy to detect high- and low-frequency sounds. Like other Littmann stethoscopes, this model is made from latex-free materials and features an anatomical design and non-chill rim, building in comfort for both the medical professional and the patient.
It can be used by students and medical professionals to diagnose a range of conditions in pediatric patients. The 3M Littmann 2122 Classic II Pediatric Stethoscope is available in 10 different colors and comes with a 3-year warranty.
The ADC Adscope 603 Clinicial Stethoscope has a dual-head stainless steel chestpiece that has a diaphragm side for high frequencies and a bell for low frequencies. This stethoscope has a non-chill diaphragm and a comfortable headset with Adsoft Plus silicone eartips. Available in 28 different colors, the ADC Adscope 603 Clinician Stethoscope comes with a lifetime warranty. It is suitable for use in a wide range of clinical environments.
The Boing Doual Head Stethoscope is a 2-sided chestpiece with tunable diaphragms. This stethoscope can be used on either adults or children, and it is designed to maximize patient comfort. The tubing on the Boing Doual Head Stethoscope resists skin oils and alcohols, extending its life and reducing the chance of stains. This lightweight stethoscope detects both high and low frequencies and performs reliably in a variety of clinical settings.
The Prestige Medical Clinical Lite Stethoscope comes with a user-friendly diaphragm, a snap-on rim, and 2 different sizes of ear tips. This affordable stethoscope is comfortable to wear. At just 4 ounces, it’s one of the lightest stethoscopes on the market. Constructed out of anodized aluminum, the Prestige Medical Clinical Lite Stethoscope is durable and long-lasting. It comes with an extra diaphragm.
We think the best stethoscope is the 3M Littmann Classic II S.E. Stethoscope. It is a high-grade professional-quality stethoscope that performs well in a range of clinical environments, whether your practice is just getting started or is a high-stress environment filled with patients. It offers high acoustic sensitivity thanks to a dual-sided chest piece and a tunable diaphragm.
The 3M Littmann Classic II is also comfortable to use for both the medical practitioner and the patient. The headset tension on this stethoscope can be easily adjusted for head size and comfort, and the tubing on this stethoscope is made with natural latex, a benefit to patients with sensitive skin. We also liked the fact that the tubing retains its shape and flexibility even after being tightly folded into a pocket.