Which stethoscope is the best?
Since the early 19th century, stethoscopes have become an essential part of every physician’s tool kit. These devices allow doctors to hear what’s happening inside the body, so they can address and diagnose health issues without invasive procedures or guesswork.
While they all function the same, not all stethoscopes are equal. The 3M Littmann Classic III is a top choice because it’s versatile, comfortable and backed by a trusted industry leader.
What to know before you buy a stethoscope
How do stethoscopes work?
Stethoscopes have a fairly simple function. When a doctor wants to use a stethoscope, they start by placing the diaphragm against the part of the body that they want to observe. As internal organs make sounds, the diaphragm begins to vibrate. These vibrations then travel through airtight tubes to the doctor’s ears in the form of amplified sound waves.
The diaphragm is the hard, round piece at the end of the stethoscope tube, which picks up sound. Although diaphragms may look the same to the untrained eye, there are a few different types to choose from.
Traditional dual-head (bell and diaphragm) are the most common stethoscopes. The bell and diaphragm devices have a wide, flat side for high frequencies and a smaller, concave side for low frequencies.
Cardiologists often use the single-head tunable diaphragm. This has a diaphragm that allows the user to adjust the pressure on the device so they can hear both high and low frequencies. These diaphragms are less versatile than others, but they offer excellent clarity when listening to the heart.
Dual-head tunable is a combination of the other types. It has diaphragms with two adjustable sides. One side is for adults, and the other is for pediatric patients. This diaphragm is the only one you can use on both children and adults.
The single tube is a style that connects a tube to the diaphragm and splits into two before reaching the headset. This design offers slightly reduced sound quality but eliminates any potential interference.
Double tube style is two tubes extending from the diaphragm and remain entirely separate until reaching the headset. This design offers great clarity, but there can be interference if the tubes touch each other.
Bi-lumen style is typically found on the most expensive stethoscopes. Bi-lumen tubing uses two tubes that mold into a single casing to prevent interference and offer superior sound quality.
What to look for in a quality stethoscope
If you want your stethoscope to live a long, productive life, look for one that’s constructed from high-quality materials. Some stethoscope tubing is made from latex, but most physicians recommend PVC because it’s thick, durable and safe for patients with skin sensitivities.
Since you may use your stethoscope repeatedly throughout the day, look for a device with an adjustable headset and ear tips. This ensures they fit snugly and comfortably in your ears. Fit is important because you need a proper seal to block out background noise.
Quality is key, so look for a trusted manufacturer with high ratings when shopping for stethoscopes online. MDF, EKO and Littmann are a few examples of reputable brands with decades of experience under their belts.
How much you can expect to spend on a stethoscope
While you can purchase training stethoscopes for less than $30, professional physicians can expect to pay around $100-$250 for a long-lasting, accurate device.
How do you sanitize my stethoscope?
A. You can use rubbing alcohol with at least 70% isopropyl alcohol content to clean most parts of the stethoscope. However, you should use soap and water for the tubing to prevent residual stickiness.
Do stethoscopes expire?
A. Some manufacturers recommend replacing your stethoscope every two years, but many physicians note that the device can last much longer with proper care. The rule of thumb is if the sound quality begins to decrease, it’s time for a replacement.
What’s the best stethoscope to buy?
What you need to know: Backed by Littmann’s stellar reputation, this stethoscope is versatile and reliable.
What you’ll love: With over a dozen color combinations to choose from, the user can pick a stethoscope that matches their personality. The dual-head tunable diaphragm means there’s a side for adults and another for pediatric patients.
What you should consider: These stethoscopes are a bit more expensive than similar models, and some users reported issues with the ear pieces.
Where to buy: Sold by Amazon
Top stethoscope for the money
What you need to know: Another popular product from Littmann, this affordable stethoscope is lightweight and accurate.
What you’ll love: This lightweight stethoscope features a dual-head tunable diaphragm, latex-free tubing and a non-chill surface for additional comfort. Many users note the ear pieces are comfortable even during extended use.
What you should consider: Some users reported weak sound quality with this stethoscope.
Where to buy: Sold by Amazon
Worth checking out
What you need to know: An affordable stethoscope, it is perfect for students and performs just as the more expensive ones.
What you’ll love: It channels great sound and is available in different colors and suitable for children and also for adults.
What you should consider: It is too tight on the ears for some users.
Where to buy: Sold by Amazon
Sign up here to receive the BestReviews weekly newsletter for useful advice on new products and noteworthy deals.
Patrick Farmer writes for BestReviews. BestReviews has helped millions of consumers simplify their purchasing decisions, saving them time and money.
Copyright 2022 BestReviews, a Nexstar company. All rights reserved.