The inside of a human body is a noisy place. Air is constantly passing in and out of lungs. Another loud organ is the heart, which thumps around the clock to keep blood circulating. All kinds of acids enzymes incessantly swirl inside of the stomach, which is the source of many different types of grumbles and growls. Coughing, chewing, hiccups, and popping joints are just some of the other noises that make up the human body’s unique symphony of sounds.
While healthy bodies make all kinds of noises, certain types of bodily sounds can indicate the presence of health problems. A bruit is a vascular murmur that indicates the presence of a partially obstructed artery. People with coronary heart diseases usually have irregular heartbeats. Asthma sufferers and people with diseases like pneumonia often make rattling or clicking sounds when they breathe.
If you’re a medical professional or studying to become one, it makes a lot of sense to buy your own stethoscope. The more experience you get with a stethoscope, the more accurate your diagnosis will be. Every stethoscope is different. Tube length, lumen type and the materials used in construction are just a few of the factors that can affect sound quality.
Here are the best stethoscopes you can buy:
- Littmann’s Classic III stethoscope combines high quality build materials with a reasonable price tag and excellent features.
- Those that can afford to spend around $200 might want to consider Littmann’s Master Cardiology Stethoscope. Features like dual lumens and a special procedures attachment lend it extra sensitivity.
- FriCARE’s Dual Head Stethoscope is comparable to Littmann’s Classic III, only it costs quite a bit less. If you want to save money, it may be worth a look.
- Veterinarians and people with sick pets will want to check out Prestige Medical’s Veterinary Clinical I stethoscope. It has extra long tubing, which often comes in handy when working with animals.
- LotFancy’s Stethoscope Travel Kit contains not only a decent quality stethoscope, but also a sphygmomanometer with five different cuffs and a pen light. All this fits neatly into the included travel bag.
The all-around best general purpose stethoscope
Littmann’s Classic III
Littmann’s line of stethoscopes have an excellent reputation among medical professionals. The problem is that many top-of-the-line Littmann stethoscopes are too expensive for some. That’s where the Classic III model comes in. It combines a more affordable price point with solid features and a durable design. The fact that you can choose from a huge variety of colors and styles is a nice extra perk, as well.
- Built to last. The latex-free rubber tubing is specially designed to resist wear and tear.
- Ideal for adults and children. The pediatric side of the chestpiece is specially designed for children.
- Picks up both low and high frequency sounds. Use light contact to pick up low frequency sounds and firm pressure to listen to higher frequencies.
- Easy to clean maintain. Just rinse with soap and water or a 70% isopropyl solution after each use.
- Serial number unlocks Littmann’s training app. Listen to common sounds and get tips for taking and evaluating stethoscope readings with the Littmann Learning Institute app.
- Many different colors and styles are available. Choose from seven different chestpiece patterns and over 20 different tubing colors.
- 5-year warranty. If a material or manufacturing defect occurs during the warranty period, Littmann will replace or repair your Classic III for free.
- Single lumen tubing. Since this stethoscope only has one lumen, all sounds travel through a single tube. This can make it hard to discern subtle sounds that are best heard with a double lumen stethoscope.
The best high performance stethoscope for doctors and medical students
Littmann’s Master Cardiology Stethoscope
Medical students and doctors sometimes need to listen to subtle clues. For this, they need a stethoscope that can pick up additional sounds. That’s why Littmann’s Master Cardiology Stethoscope is equipped with not one but two lumens. These dual lumens channel sound more efficiently and more clearly compared to stethoscopes that only have one lumen.
- More sound sensitivity. This two-lumen stethoscope is designed to channel two separate sound signals into your left and right ears.
- Versatile. Like other Littmann stethoscopes, this one has a double sided chestpiece that can be used in both bell and diaphragm mode.
- Sturdy construction. According to Littmann, some parts of the stethoscope were assembled by hand.
- Comes with a special procedures adapter. The adapter slips over the diaphragm and you can use it to listen to carotid artery and other small areas of the body.
- Serial number unlocks Littman’s training app. Access premium content on the Littmann Learning Institute app by typing in your serial number.
- Choose from six different colors. Tube color options include black, burgundy, blue, green, navy blue and plum.
- 7-year warranty. If your stethoscope breaks because of a material or manufacturing defect within the warranty period, Littmann will repair it for you or send you a new one for free.
- Pricey compared to more basic stethoscopes. This top-of-the-line stethoscope costs around twice as much as Littmann’s Classic III.
The best budget stethoscope
FriCARE’s Dual Head Stethoscope
Littmann stethoscopes are excellent, but they’re also somewhat pricey. If you’re a student or just want a stethoscope to use at home, it may make sense to go with a different brand. The FriCARE Dual Head Stethoscope is a high quality, yet reasonably priced instrument that not only has solid features but also comes with a lifetime warranty.
- Inexpensive. This stethoscope is similar to mid-range Littmann models, but doesn’t cost as much.
- Two-sided chestpiece. The chestpiece has a low frequency side and a low frequency side.
- Comes with a name tag and many other accessories. Other accessories that come with this stethoscope include replacement ear tips and an extra diaphragm.
- Adjustable fit. You can adjust the spring tension to suit your comfort preferences.
- Extra thick tubing. The heavy duty tubing is designed to help resist wear and tear.
- Lightweight. Instead of stainless steel, FriCARE opted to build this stethoscope’s binaurals out of lightweight aluminum.
- Lifetime warranty. The warranty guarantees that if something happens to your stethoscope, FriCARE will repair or replace it for free.
- All sounds travel through a single tube. The single lumen design means that it’s not as sensitive compared to two-lumen stethoscopes.
The best veterinarian stethoscope for pets
Prestige Medical’s Veterinary Clinical I
If you have a sick pet, a veterinarian stethoscope may be able to help you understand their health issues– and react intelligently when they need help. Stethoscopes that are used with animals are virtually the same as ordinary stethoscopes, with one key difference: the tubing is longer. Prestige Medical’s Veterinary Clinical I stethoscope is a great choice for pet owners and veterinarians alike because it’s easy to use, reasonably priced– and if it ever breaks, you can return it to the manufacturer and get a new one for free.
- Earbuds block ambient noise. This feature is particularly useful when the surrounding environment is noisy.
- Extra long tubing. The 33-inch-long tubing lets you take a reading from a distance
- Dual-headed design. Use the bell side to measure low frequency sounds and the opposite side to measure higher frequencies.
- Crisp sound. Sounds like heartbeats come in crisp and clear.
- Can be used on both humans and animals. If you need to use this stethoscope on a human, you can.
- Easy to use and maintain. Just rinse with soap and water after each measurement to keep the stethoscope free of germs and contaminants.
- Lifetime warranty. Prestige Medical will send you free replacement parts if they wear out and you need replacements.
- Too large to use on small animals. The chestpiece is too large to be used on infants and tiny animals.
The best stethoscope travel kit
LotFancy’s Stethoscope Travel Kit
This stethoscope kit from LotFancy is a great deal. You get a decent quality stethoscope, plus a sphygmomanometer for testing blood pressure, a pen light and a travel bag. One nice thing about the sphygmomanometer is that it comes with five different cuffs. The stethoscope is made from stainless steel and high quality rubber. Its chestpiece is turnable, so you can listen to a wide range of frequencies.
- High quality, double-sided stethoscope. In diaphragm mode, the stethoscope can be used to listen to high frequency sounds. Bell mode lets you listen to low and medium frequency sounds.
- Sphygmomanometer. Five different cuff sizes let you use the sphygmomanometer on infants, children and adults. There’s even a large cuff that’s designed for thigh readings.
- LED pen light. The pen light is useful for checking eyes, ears and throats.
- Travel bag. Everything that comes with LotFancy’s stethoscope kit fits neatly inside of a convenient travel bag.
- Excellent value. All of the instruments in the kit are of good quality, yet the kit is very reasonably priced.
- Useful in the event of an emergency. Keep the kit at home or in the office in case an emergency necessitates its use.
- No latex. The sphygmomanometer cuffs do not contain latex, nor does the stethoscope.
- The sphygmomanometer cuffs tend to fall out of their pouches. If you’re not careful when you open the travel bag, the sphygmomanometer cuffs may come loose and fall out of their pockets.
Buying guide for stethoscopes
Splurge on a Littmann, or get a high quality alternative instead?
Though there are many good stethoscope makers out there, the Littmann brand name carries more prestige than most. That may or may not matter to you, depending on your preferences and where you are in your career– but it’s something to think about before you buy.
Sensitivity vs. price
If you only are interested in basic auscultation tasks like listening to heartbeats, you may not need much sensitivity. However, if you want to pick up subtler sounds, you may want to invest in a stethoscope that’s equipped with two lumens instead of just one. That improved sound quality comes will cost you, though. Littmann’s most sensitive dual-lumen stethoscope costs almost twice as much as the company’s entry-level single-lumen model.
What type of accessories does it come with?
Some stethoscopes come with an adapter that makes it easier to auscultate the carotid artery and other parts of the body that are hard to hear accurately with a standard chestpiece. Stethoscope kits typically come with sphygmomanometers and other useful instruments.
Warranty, return policy and customer service
Unfortunately, there’s no way to try out a stethoscope before you commit if you buy one via Amazon. However, many stethoscope manufacturers will let you send their product back for a refund if you don’t like it or if there is something wrong with it. It’s a good idea to check the manufacturer’s product page to find out about these details before you buy.
Materials used in construction
Do you mind if your stethoscope is a bit heavy? If not, you may want to go with one that’s made from stainless steel. Aluminum stethoscopes are just as rugged, but more lightweight. All of the stethoscopes mentioned above are free of latex. This is beneficial because some people develop symptoms like hives or itchy skin when they come in contact with it.
Tube type and length
Stethoscopes with long tubes are convenient for auscultating animals, since sometimes you need to keep a certain distance when working with them. On the other hand, a longer tube means less portability.
Color and style options
An increasing number of stethoscope manufacturers are giving their customers the ability to customize the way their products look. If you want to be noticed or just enjoy adding a bit of spice to your look, a wide variety of different prints and colors are available.
Basic stethoscopes aren’t quite as sensitive as mid-range and high-end stethoscopes, but they can pick up basic sounds. Prices start at around $25.
If you’re willing to pay around $60 to $80, you can get a stethoscope kit. Single-lumen Littman stethoscopes fall into this price range, as well.
The most high end stethoscopes are sensitive enough to pick up subtle sounds and come with special adapters that make it easier to listen to small areas of the body. Expect to pay $100 or more for a good quality dual-lumen stethoscope.
Frequently asked questions
Q: When and how should I clean my stethoscope?
A: Just rinse with soap and water after each use. Alternatively, you can use a 70% isopropyl alcohol solution or wipe. You shouldn’t use a hand sanitizer to clean your stethoscope because chemicals inside the sanitizer are known to do damage to some stethoscope parts. Keeping a stethoscope in a tub of water for an extended period of time isn’t a good idea either, since this can cause it to break down as well.
Q: What is the proper way to wear a stethoscope?
A: Over time, skin contact can wear down the rubber part of a stethoscope. That’s why most doctors wear their stethoscopes over their shirts. Also, make sure that the binaurals are pointing forwards towards your nose when you put your stethoscope in your ears. Your ear canals have a slight forward tilt, which is why stethoscopes are designed this way.
Q: I’ve never used a stethoscope before. Should I get a cardiology stethoscope or a general care stethoscope?
A: If you’re studying to become a nurse, a general care stethoscope may be all you need. However, if you get a cardiology stethoscope you’ll be able to get more experience listening to more detailed sounds. That understanding could benefit your career, depending on what your professional goals are.
Tips and tricks
- When using your stethoscope, try to not hold your thumb over the chestpiece because that can interfere with the sound. Aural artifacts can stop you from auscultating accurately.
- Some doctors auscultate their patients through their shirts when they are in a rush. This is acceptable, but for best results you should place the chestpiece directly against your patients’ skin. Clothing can absorb some of the body’s subtler sounds.
- If your patient is hard of hearing, you can plug your stethoscope into their ears and talk into the chestpiece. This will amplify the volume of your voice and allow your patient to hear you better.