Three stethoscopes on blue background

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Whether you’re choosing your first stethoscope or looking for 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 as well.

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.

Criteria

Healthline chooses the best stethoscopes based on the following criteria:

  • Consistent performance. Consistency is key. The instruments on this list provide consistent results from test to test.
  • Insurance coverage. In general, we selected stethoscopes that are HSA- and FSA-eligible, but always check what’s covered by your policy.
  • Durability. Whichever stethoscope you choose, it should remain reliable with repeated use.
  • User experiences and reviews. We also took into account reviews, both good and bad, from real people like you who use stethoscopes on a regular basis.
  • Budget. We selected stethoscopes to accommodate a wide range of budgets.
  • Professional reputation. We vetted products that come with high praise from other medical professionals.

Pricing guide

We’ve indicated the price range for each product as follows:

  • $ = under $50
  • $$ = $50–$100
  • $$$ = over $100

Editor’s choice

3M Littmann Classic III

  • Price: $$
  • Type: dual head acoustic
  • Best used for: physical assessment in a noncritical care setting
  • Size: 27 inches long
  • Key features: adult and pediatric size bells, tunable diaphragm, easy to clean, open bell, no latex or phthalate plasticizers, comes in multiple colors

If you’ve been looking for a good stethoscope, the 3M Littman Classic is almost impossible to beat. Many doctors, nurses, and patient care technicians use this best all-around stethoscope.

This model can be a good option for most healthcare professionals and is a moderately priced yet high quality first stethoscope.

This is also the best-selling stethoscope on Amazon, with thousands of positive reviews. It’s a dual head, single tube model with high acoustic sensitivity. The adult bell can be used as a pediatric bell if covered with the extra diaphragm.

Littmann also has an app that you can download to help hone your auscultation skills.

Pros

  • suitable for pediatric and adult care
  • flexible tube
  • durable and comes with a 5-year warranty
  • comes in many colors and can be personalized
  • easy to clean

Cons

  • heavier than compatible designs
  • single lumen tube
  • some reviewers note the quality has declined
  • some buyers were shipped a knockoff from Amazon — when in doubt, look for an authorized dealer here.

Best budget stethoscope

FriCARE Dual Head

  • Price: $
  • Type: dual head acoustic
  • Best used for: home use, checking blood pressure, general clinical settings
  • Size: 28 inches long
  • Key features: inexpensive, stainless steel construction, nonlatex rubber

This is a dual head, stainless steel stethoscope in black with reasonably good acoustics. Many people are pleasantly surprised by the quality of sound this stethoscope picks up, given its very low price.

You may find it a relief to have a good instrument that won’t break the bank, especially if you are a nursing student, work in a setting where your stethoscope may be easily lost, or are still choosing your specialty.

Pros

  • inexpensive with a lifetime guarantee
  • durable, heavy tubing
  • easy to keep clean
  • comes with replaceable earpieces

Cons

  • may not be suitable for high acuity environment
  • single lumen acoustics are adequate but not top of the line
  • looks basic
  • earpieces not comfortable for all users

Best Sprague stethoscope

Omron Sprague Rappaport

  • Price: $
  • Best used for: home health, students, personal use
  • Type: Sprague
  • Size: 22 inches long
  • Key features: shorter tubing, double tubing, inexpensive

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.

The shorter tubing, as well as the double tubing characteristic of a Sprague-style stethoscope, enhances the sounds you hear.

Nursing student Ana Valdez recommends it as the best buy for students. Many reviewers bought it for home use with family members or pets.

Pros

  • good for taking vitals and training
  • solid construction and inexpensive enough to replace if lost
  • comes with extra set of earpieces, three sizes of open bells, and two sizes of diaphragms

Cons

  • lacks fine acoustic detail
  • uncomfortable earpieces, according to many reviewers
  • heavier than other stethoscopes (1.5 pounds)
  • tubes can be stiff and rub against each other and create background noise
  • the chest piece is cold

Best midrange budget stethoscope

MDF MD One

  • Price: $
  • Type: dual head acoustic
  • Best used for: general clinical settings
  • Size: 32 inches long
  • Key features: good quality, trendy color combos, personalization available

If you’re looking for a stethoscope that doubles as a diagnostic tool and a stylish accessory, the MDF MD One stethoscope is hard to beat.

With several different finish options (including rose gold and marbled effect), this dual head, stainless steel stethoscope combines high performance with durability.

It gets good reviews for the quality and comfort, as many users like the three different size options for the earpieces. You can also get the metal head custom engraved with your name or a special word or quote.

Pros

  • good quality for the price
  • lightweight and comfortable
  • lifetime warranty and free replacement parts for life
  • three sizes of earpieces, comes in many colors, and can be engraved

Cons

  • the color coating flakes off, according to some reviewers
  • the white color stains easily
  • engraving size is very small

Best sound quality

3M Littmann Master Cardiology

  • Price: $$$
  • Type: cardiology
  • Best used for: critical care or high acuity clinical work, any setting where high quality acoustics are essential
  • Size: 27 inches long
  • Key features: highest quality construction, picks up widest range of sounds, extended warranty

This is called a cardiology stethoscope, but it’s also recommended for any professional who needs top-quality acoustics, particularly those working in emergency or critical care settings. The larger chest piece and deeper bell on this stethoscope allow for maximum sound pickup.

This stethoscope also features a double lumen construction. This means the tubing has two sound paths inside one outer tube, which cuts down on noise interference.

There is a new version of this stethoscope, the 3M Littmann Cardiology IV, available as well.

Pros

  • excellent acoustics and tuneable diaphragm
  • can be used for adult and pediatric care
  • long tubing
  • easy to clean
  • an adapter allows you to listen to small areas of the body
  • 7-year warranty

Cons

  • high price
  • relatively heavy
  • rubber tubing feels stiff

Professional approval

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, DFAAPA. 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!”

Best electronic stethoscope

3M Littmann CORE Digital Stethoscope

  • Price: $$$
  • Type: electronic
  • Best used for: cardiology, intensive care units, loud or critical care environments
  • Size: 27 inches long
  • Key features: active noise cancellation, up to 40 times sound amplification, LCD display, app connectivity

If you work in a very noisy environment, require high accuracy, and like gadgets, an electronic stethoscope may be for you.

The 3M Littmann CORE Digital Stethoscope features the high quality construction of the Littmann Cardiology series, plus the perks of digital technology.

It’s more expensive than acoustic stethoscopes, but it can aid in heart and lung diagnostics by recording sounds, converting sounds to visualizations (which can be helpful for visual versus auditory processors or for educating patients), 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. Electronic technology can help convert subjective information (one person’s perception of sound) into more objective information.

Pros

  • records up to 12 30-second soundtracks
  • amplifies sound up to 40 times
  • eliminates an average of 85 percent of ambient noise
  • three colors available

Cons

  • easily damaged
  • the battery can run out during an examination
  • may feel too complicated for some users
  • on the expensive side

Best designed stethoscope

Ultrascope

  • Price: $$$
  • Type: single head acoustic
  • Best used for: general assessment, pediatrics
  • Size: 30 inches long
  • Key features: large selection of designs, lightweight, high quality acoustics

The Ultrascope is sleek, lightweight, and visually beautiful. If you are aesthetically oriented, have a strong interest in personal style, or work with children, this is a worthwhile stethoscope to check out.

The smooth acrylic head showcases a picture printed underneath. You can choose from a huge number of designs or submit your own custom design, such as a personal photo or piece of artwork.

In addition to their customizable designs, the Ultrascope is lightweight and features very high quality acoustics.

While it is the only single head stethoscope on our list, medical professionals say it has high enough sensitivity to be used in a variety of patient populations, including pediatrics, although there is a pediatric size available as well.

The company claims that acoustics are cardiology-level quality and include noise-canceling technology.

Pros

  • large variety of colors and designs
  • unique style
  • lightweight
  • good acoutsics

Cons

  • single head design
  • may not accomodate critial care or pediatric needs
  • could be seen as less professional

StethoscopePriceTypeBest used forLengthKey features
3M Littmann Classic III$$dual head acousticphysical assessment in a noncritical care setting27 inchesadult and pediatric size bells,
tunable diaphragm easy to clean, open bell, no latex or phthalate plasticizers, comes in multiple colors
FriCARE Dual Head$dual head acoustichome use, checking blood pressure, general clinical settings28 inchesinexpensive, stainless steel construction, non-latex rubber
Omron Sprague Rappaport$home health, students, personal useSprague22 inchesshorter tubing, double tubing, inexpensive
MDF MD One$dual head acousticgeneral clinical settings32 inchesgood quality, trendy color combos, personalization available
3M Littmann Master Cardiology$$$cardiologycritical care or high acuity clinical work, any setting where high quality acoustics are essential
27 incheshighest quality construction, picks up widest range of sounds, extended warranty
3M Littmann CORE Digital Stethoscope$$$electroniccardiology, intensive care units, loud or critical care environments27 inchesactive noise cancellation, up to 40 times sound amplification, LCD display, app connectivity
Ultrascope$$$single head acousticgeneral assessment, pediatrics30 incheslarge selection of designs, lightweight, high quality acoustics

There are three main types of stethoscopes:

  • acoustic (the classic)
  • electronic (digital)
  • stethoscopes for anyone with hearing impairments (these can be used with or without hearing aides)

Within these types, there are single head, dual head, and triple head stethoscopes.

  • Triple head stethoscopes are fairly uncommon and are primarily used in cardiology settings.
  • Dual head means both sides of the stethoscope head can be used for auscultation (listening), which allows you to hear a broader range of sounds when you are listening to a person’s heart, lungs, or bowels.
  • Single head stethoscopes use just one side for listening, which may mean you miss a few of the highest or lowest tones.

In addition to the type and head style, you can also categorize stethoscopes by their function:

  • Cardiology. These stethoscopes are the best when it comes to sound quality. They’re most useful in cardiac or critical care settings, where even the slightest difference in sound matters.
  • Pediatric. These smaller size stethoscopes pick up higher tones and are just the right size for children’s bodies.
  • Infant. This is the tiniest stethoscope bell available for the tiniest patients.
  • Sprague. This design features two tubes running down the entire length of the stethoscope (one from each earpiece), which is meant to enhance the sound.
  • Lightweight. High quality stethoscopes are often heavy, which can be a challenge if you experience neck or back pain. While you may sacrifice a bit of sound quality, a lightweight stethoscope can be a good option to relieve some of the pressure on your neck.
  • Veterinary. These are stethoscopes designed for pets, such as cats and dogs, although many vets use human stethoscopes on their patients as well.

Infant and pediatric stethoscopes have both a bell (open) side and a diaphragm (covered with a membrane) side. The smaller sizes allow the listener to hear only what they want, instead of heart and bowel sounds, which happens when an adult size is used on an infant.

Just like an adult stethoscope, the diaphragm side picks up the higher pitched sounds, and the bell side picks up more of the lower pitches.

Tokarczyk suggests new stethoscope buyers, such as nurses, nursing students, doctors, medical students, and patient care technicians, 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 earpieces.
  • 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:

Specific use

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 child, 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 you frequently work with people who have heart conditions, have respiratory illnesses, or are in a critical care setting, you may need to look at a higher priced model.

Price range

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 if they get lost or broken.

When the time comes for an upgrade, you’ll have a better idea of what your specific needs are.

Comfort

  • Weight. You’ll be wearing or carrying your stethoscope, so weight may be a consideration. Littmann and other brands have lightweight models that can help prevent a sore neck at the end of a long shift.
  • Tube length. You may prefer a longer tube to keep your face farther away from people who may have a contagious condition, 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 person’s comfort. Cold metal on a person’s back may be uncomfortable for them.
  • Ear fit and comfort. Pay attention to earpieces, advises Boston-area nurse Suzanne McCluskey, RN. You want them to be secure yet comfortable. “I once went to use a stethoscope, and the earpiece 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 [earpiece] sizes.”
  • Accessories. You may consider buying earpieces 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. Due to the nature of their work, stethoscopes can carry bacteria.

Quality materials

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, which may matter if you or a patient has a latex sensitivity.

How does a stethoscope work?

There are three main parts to a stethoscope: the earpieces (rubber tips that go in your ears), the tubing (which carries the sound), and the chest piece (the metal part, or head, of the stethoscope).

The chest piece is typically made of a bell and a diaphragm. The bell is the open side, which often seems smaller because it’s deeper. It transmits lower sounds.

The diaphragm is the larger, flatter side, which transmits higher sounds. Single head stethoscopes combine the bell and diaphragm functions.

Sound waves are amplified when they bounce off the metal disc (diaphragm or bell) of a stethoscope and are carried up the tubing. Because the sounds are contained in the tubing and carried directly to the listener’s ears, you can hear more than if you just put your ear next to someone’s chest.

How do you clean a stethoscope?

Isopropyl rubbing alcohol that’s 70 percent or higher is recommended to clean your stethoscope.

Many hospital settings have heavy-duty disinfecting wipes on every wall, but some of these cleaners can cause the rubber tubing of your stethoscope to break down over time. It’s usually best to use alcohol wipes.

How long does a stethoscope last?

While some organizations recommend replacing your stethoscope every 2 years for superior function, many healthcare professionals we talked to have had their stethoscopes for many years, even decades.

Are more expensive stethoscopes better quality?

For the most part, yes. More expensive stethoscopes tend to have higher quality materials and construction, which allow for better sound quality.

However, there are some very good quality tools at a fraction of the cost. Typically, you’ll want to look for stainless steel and nonlatex rubber.

Which type of stethoscope is best for doctors vs. nurses vs. students?

If you are a physician specializing in critical care or cardiology, a cardiology or digital stethoscope may be the best choice.

In general, the best stethoscope for nurses seems to be the 3M Littman Classic, trusted by many medical professionals. But there are many nursing specialties — such as cardiac, neonatal intensive care unit, pediatric intensive care unit, pediatrics, and flight medicine — that may benefit from specialty stethoscopes such as cardiology, pediatric, or infant.

Nursing students, medical students, and patient care technician students may want to choose one of the budget options until they get a good feel for their practice.

Whether you’re buying your first stethoscope or an upgrade, there are plenty of options when it comes to design, quality, and price.

If you’re a nurse, doctor, advanced practitioner, emergency medical technician, respiratory therapist, or student, you’re likely to have your stethoscope with you most of the time.

Littmann is considered the gold standard brand for high quality sound, and it offers special models for cardiology, newborns, and everything in between.

However, Littmann models tend to be more expensive than competitors. Other stethoscope brands may better suit your needs and budget.