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When it comes to this essential healthcare tool, there’s no room for mediocrity. Here are the stethoscopes that doctors, nurses, and other healthcare professionals rely on.

Three stethoscopes on blue background

As a necessary part of patient health assessment and diagnosis, stethoscopes are one of the most valuable tools for healthcare professionals. But not all stethoscopes are equal.

These tools can differ, sometimes widely, in their intended purpose, the patient population they’re most suited for, and what materials they’re made from.

We’ve consulted with healthcare professionals and scoured customer reviews to find the best stethoscopes for every use. Read on to find the best stethoscope for your practice or use.

Pricing guide

Stethoscopes can range in price from about $15 up to $400. This wide variation in price is due to the quality of materials used, the stethoscope’s head type, the size, and the acoustic quality of the instrument.

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

  • $ = under $50
  • $$ = $50–$100
  • $$$ = over $100
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Price Type UseLength
(in.)
Features
3M Littmann Classic III$$$ dual head acousticphysical assessment in a noncritical care setting27• adult and pediatric size
• tunable diaphragm
• easy to clean
• no latex or phthalate plasticizers
Omron Sprague Rappaport Stethoscope$$Sprague• home health
• students
• personal use
22• shorter double tubing
• inexpensive
MDF Instruments MD One Adult Stethoscope$$dual head acousticgeneral clinical settings32• good quality
• trendy color combos
• personalization available
3M Littman Master Cardiology Stethoscope$$$cardio• critical care or high acuity clinical work
• any setting where high quality acoustics are essential
27• highest quality construction
• widest range of sounds
• extended warranty
3M Littmann CORE Digital Stethoscope$$$digital• cardiology
• intensive care units
• loud or critical care environments
27• active noise cancellation
• up to 40 times sound amplification
• app connectivity
3M Littmann Classic II Pediatric Stethoscope$$dual head acousticinfants and children28• high quality acoustics
• smaller diaphragm
• “no chill” surfaces
FriCARE Dual Head Stethoscope$dual head acoustic• home use
• checking blood pressure
• general clinical settings
28• inexpensive
• stainless steel
• nonlatex rubber
  • Consistent performance: Consistency is key. The instruments on this list provide consistent results.
  • Insurance coverage: In general, we selected stethoscopes that are health savings account (HSA) and flexible spending account (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.

There are three main types of stethoscope:

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

Within these types, there are:

  • Triple head: These stethoscopes are fairly uncommon and are primarily used in cardiology settings.
  • Dual head: This 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’re listening to a person’s heart, lungs, or bowels.
  • Single head: These 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. As with all stethoscopes, the diaphragm side picks up the higher pitched sounds, and the bell side picks up more of the lower pitches.
  • Pediatric: These smaller size stethoscopes pick up higher tones and are just the right size for children’s bodies. They 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.
  • 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.

Sheri Tokarczyk, MS, PA-C, director of academic affairs and physician assistant education at NorthShore University HealthSystem in Illinois, suggests healthcare professionals looking to purchase a stethoscope consider these factors:

  • Frequency of use: “There are some great stethoscopes for $50–$80 if your use will be light or infrequent,” she says. For frequent or heavy use, “consider a higher quality, more durable model and tubing.”
  • The sensitivity of the acoustics: “You want a diaphragm and bell to allow you to hear various frequencies and vibrations.”
  • Lightweight design and comfortable earpieces: “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.”

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, nursing student Ana Valdez suggests.

Some accessories, like stethoscope covers, are designed with pediatric care in mind.

Doctors of veterinary medicine also have some specific considerations to keep in mind. “One of the most important features for vets especially is a dual head, because we care for such a wide range of animal sizes. So you want one side that is larger and one smaller,” says Dr. Heather Weir of the CSU Veterinary Teaching Hospital.

“Additionally, longer tubing gives you better access (especially since some animals don’t want you right in their space), and a double lumen for better sound quality, since vets work in noisier and more varied environments,” she says.

For an acute care practitioner, will you need the best acoustics possible to listen to very faint sounds? If you frequently work with people who have heart conditions, respiratory illnesses, or are in a critical care setting, you may need to look at a higher priced model.

Materials

The more expensive stethoscopes use materials that conduct sound more efficiently. For example, stainless steel is considered the best sound transmitter. Also, 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.

In a 2019 comparison study of 18 different stethoscope models, the Littman Cardiology IV was a top performer in all categories evaluated, including sound quality, volume, and how much ambient noise was picked up.

The Littman CORE digital stethoscope also performed well, particularly in sound volume.

These are the highest quality and highest priced options on our list, so if stethoscope cost is a consideration for you, there are a number of stethoscope options that will provide a good sound at a lower price. Some of the specifics of stethoscope performance are up to user preference.

More expensive stethoscopes tend to have higher quality materials, design, and construction, which allow for better sound quality. This can be very important in the medical field, as small differences in lung or heart sounds can make a huge difference in an accurate diagnosis and treatment of illness.

If you work in acute care, a high quality stethoscope can make a big difference. But if you’re a student or still determining your specialty, 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 materials.

If you talk with medical professionals, a huge majority use a 3M Littmann stethoscope. These stethoscopes have been around since the 1960s and their design was the pioneering technology for all stethoscopes used today.

Even in the age of modern technology, a stethoscope is still one of the most valuable diagnostic tools for any clinician.

Littman stethoscopes tend to more expensive than average. The company is known for using high quality materials (such as steel, aluminum, flexible tubing, and soft earpieces), in addition to superior design and manufacturing. This combo produces a stethoscope that provides the best sound quality possible.

In a study conducted by 3M, the maker of the Littman stethoscope, the company found that patient heart sounds were 4 times louder through the diaphragm of a Littmann stethoscope than that of the competitor.

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

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.