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Whether you’re choosing your first stethoscope or an upgrade, you have lots of options.
The gold standard in stethoscopes for all the nurses, doctors, advanced practitioners, and medical students Healthline talked with is the Littmann brand. It’s known for top quality in a wide range of models and prices. But there are other more economical brands that might suit your needs.
Here we’ll review some of the top choices, as evaluated by professionals we spoke with, medical websites, and purchase reviews.
We’ll look at the best-selling stethoscope models for quality, durability, functionality, special features, and price range.
3M Littmann Classic III
This model can be a good option for noncritical care professionals and as a moderately priced first stethoscope.
This is the best-selling stethoscope on Amazon, with thousands of positive reviews. It’s a dual-head, single-tube model with high acoustic sensitivity.
- suitable for pediatric and adult patients
- flexible tube
- 5-year warranty
- comes in many colors
- can be personalized
- easy to clean
- heavier than comparable designs
- single-lumen tubing
- the quality of this model has gone down, note some reviewers
- some buyers say they were shipped a “knockoff” from Amazon, not an authentic Littmann
Price point: $$
FriCARE Dual Head
This is a dual-head, stainless steel stethoscope in black with reasonably good acoustics.
- lifetime guarantee
- durable, heavy tubing
- easy to keep clean
- comes with replaceable ear pieces
- single-lumen acoustics adequate but not tops
- looks very basic
- ear pieces not comfortable for all users
Price point: $
Omron Sprague Rappaport
By all reviews, this is a more than adequate stethoscope for the price. It has a chrome-plated chest piece and a double-tube design. It’s suitable for both adult and pediatric use.
Nursing student Ana Valdez recommends it as a best buy for students.
Many reviewers bought it for home use with family members or pets.
- good for taking vitals and for training
- solid construction
- inexpensive enough to replace if you lose it, or to use as a backup
- comes with extra set of ear pieces, three sizes of open bells, and two sizes of diaphragms
- comes in black or dark blue
- lacks fine acoustic detail
- uncomfortable ear pieces, according to many reviewers
- heavier than other stethoscopes (1.5 pounds)
- tubes can be stiff
- two tubes rub against each other, creating background noise
- chest piece is cold, need to warm it up
Price point: $
MDF MD One
This dual-head stethoscope is made out of stainless steel. It combines high performance with durability.
- quality is as good as Littmann models but more affordable
- lightweight and comfortable
- lifetime warranty
- free replacement parts for life
- two sets of ear pieces
- comes in many colors
- can be engraved
- the color coating flakes off, according to some reviewers
- the white color stains easily, according to several reviewers
- engraving size is very small
Price point: $$
3M Littmann Master Cardiology
This is called a cardiology stethoscope, but it’s also recommended for any professional who needs good quality acoustics.
It’s a double-lumen stethoscope. This means the tubing has two sound paths inside one outer tube, which cuts down on noise interference.
- excellent acoustics
- tunable diaphragm
- can be used for adult or pediatric care
- longer tubing
- easy to clean
- several color choices
- an adapter allows you to listen to small areas of the body
- 7-year warranty
- high price
- relatively heavy
- rubber tubing feels stiff
Price point: $$$
Emmanuel Andrès, MD, a professor of medicine at the University of Strasbourg in France, puts this model at the top of his list for cardiology specialists.
Andrès is also involved with the Unit of Human Sounds Analysis and Laboratory of Research in Pedagogy in Human Health at the university.
It’s also the first choice for Sheri Tokarczyk, MS, PA-C, CPAAPA, FAAPA. Tokarczyk is the director of academic affairs and physician assistant education at NorthShore University HealthSystem in Illinois. She’s used her 3M Littmann Master Cardiology stethoscope for 25 years.
“It’s held up very well after taking a beating for years,” she said. “Last year I spent $80 to have the tubing and headpiece replaced by Littmann, as it needed a facelift. Good as new!”
3M Littmann model 3200
If you work in a very noisy environment and like gadgets, an electronic stethoscope may be for you.
It’s more expensive than nonelectronic stethoscopes, but it can aid in heart and lung diagnostics by recording sounds, converting sounds to visualizations, and connecting to other devices. As such, it has uses in telemedicine, too.
In a 2016 study, Andrès measured how much electronic technology helped the accuracy of diagnosis by medical students. This model is his recommendation.
- records up to 12 30-second sound tracks
- amplifies sound up to 24 times
- eliminates an average of 85 percent of ambient noise
- three colors available
- easily damaged
- battery can run out in the middle of examination
Price point: $$$
Tokarczyk suggests new stethoscope buyers think about these factors:
- Frequency of use. “There are some great stethoscopes for $50 to $80 if your use will be light or infrequent,” she says. For frequent or heavy use, “consider a higher quality, more durable model.”
- The sensitivity of the acoustics. “You want a diaphragm and bell to allow you to hear various frequencies and vibrations.”
- High-quality durable head and tubing.
- Comfortable ear pieces.
- Lightweight design. “This is important if you’re wearing the stethoscope all day.”
- The length of tubing. “Shorter tubing may provide better acoustics but will also mean bending down more.”
- Personalizing. “It’s always fun to have the options of engraving, various tubing colors, or stethoscope accessories to tell your stethoscope apart from others.”
Whether you’re shopping in person or online, check out the retailer for reliability, warranties, and the return policy.
Other things to consider are:
Are you working with infants or children most of the time? You may want a stethoscope that has a cute design that can distract the patient, Valdez suggests.
Some accessories, like stethoscope covers, are designed with pediatric care in mind.
Or, will you need the best acoustics possible to listen to very faint sounds? If so, you may need to look at a higher-priced model.
Stethoscopes range from around $20 to more than $300.
When you’re starting out as a student or trainee, one of the budget models is most likely adequate. They’re also easier to replace.
When the time comes for an upgrade, you’ll have a better idea of what your specific needs are.
- Weight. You’ll be wearing or carrying your stethoscope, so weight may be a consideration. Littmann and other brands have lightweight models.
- Tube length. You may prefer a longer tube to keep your face farther away from patients who may be contagious, but this can cause more loss of sound.
- Patient-focused features. You may also want a stethoscope with a chest piece that you don’t have to warm up for the patient’s comfort.
- Ear fit and comfort. Pay attention to ear pieces, advises Boston-area nurse Suzanne McCluskey, RN. You want them to be secure yet comfortable. “I once went to use a stethoscope and the ear piece had fallen off and I hurt my ear,” she said. “Also, everyone has different size ears, so it’s great if they come with a few [ear piece] sizes.”
- Accessories. You may consider buying ear pieces separately. That way you can get a good fit that blocks out ambient noise.
- Ease of upkeep. Also note how easy the stethoscope is to clean and disinfect. Stethoscopes can carry bacteria.
The more expensive stethoscopes use materials that conduct sound more efficiently.
Stainless steel is considered the best sound transmitter. The better instruments have thicker steel heads.
All of the stethoscopes mentioned in this article are latex-free.
Whether you’re buying your first stethoscope or an upgrade, there are plenty of options in design, quality, and price.
If you’re a nurse, doctor, advanced practitioner, EMT, student, or respiratory therapist, you’re likely to have your stethoscope with you most of the time.
Littmann is the gold standard brand, with special models for cardiology, newborns, and everything in between. Littmann tends to be higher priced, however. Other stethoscope brands may better suit your needs and budget.