The stethoscope is so common and recognizable that it’s become a universal symbol of nurses and healthcare professionals worldwide. But when you need to buy one, how do you know which is the best stethoscope for a nurse?
In A Hurry? Here Are Our Top Three Favorites From This List:
Nurses use them daily to check pulses, lung function, and to hear all the lubs, dubs, and burbles of the inner workings of their patients’ bodies.
There’s a lot of different types, brands, and specialties to choose from when buying your stethoscope. We’ve scoured the internet for the best stethoscopes that cover everything from the best all-around to pediatric models.
But before we get to the top-rated stethoscopes, we’re going to give you some things to take into consideration before purchasing one.
What’s The Best Stethoscope?
The best stethoscope, regardless of what you do in healthcare, is the one that’s going to give you the best acoustic performance with reliability and durability.
Unless you’re going with a digital or electronic stethoscope, the basic design of all stethoscopes is pretty much the same: Earpieces, auditory tubes, and the chest piece.
What sets a good stethoscope apart from a basic one? Here’s a couple of things:
- Stainless steel design – not only more durable but stainless steel provides top-notch acoustic quality
- Latex-free tubing – there’s no increase in sound quality, but some people are allergic to latex.
- Tunable head – a tunable head is going to give you the ability to easily switch back and forth between low and high-frequency sound.
- Warranty – hey, it’s not a performance perk, but it’s nice to get replacements when you need them
In our humble opinion, if you want to choose just one stethoscope that stands above the others in performance, quality, and reliability, it’s going to be the first one on our list:
With top performance and quality, it’s a top pick for all types of healthcare professionals from doctors to EMTs.
What Are The Best Stethoscope Brands?
Ok, so if 3M Littmann is the best – who else makes the top 5 list of best stethoscopes? Easy:
Whichever stethoscope you decide to go with, any of these choices is going to give you performance, quality and the reliability of a great company. So are you ready?
Here are the 16 best stethoscopes as rated by nurses, doctors, vet techs, paramedics healthcare workers, and medical students
The Top 16 Best Stethoscopes For Nurses, Doctors, And Medical Students
BEST LITTMANN STETHOSCOPE
At the top of every list is the 3M Littmann Classic III Stethoscope. This affordably-priced, dual-head stethoscope does everything you need. It’s perfect for use in a wide variety of general settings.
It has a tunable, dual-sided stainless steel chestpiece and comes in a variety of colors. You’ll also have a choice of colors.
- Stainless steel tunable dual head with pediatric bell
- 27-inch tubing
- No natural rubber latex or phthalates used
- 5-year promise
BEST STETHOSCOPE FOR NURSES
This offering from MDF Instruments stethoscope has stainless steel parts and a dual-head plus a lifetime warranty and free parts. Features durable construction and SafetyLock Eartip Adaptors.
The 100% stainless steel construction provides durability and superior acoustic quality.
- Latex-free PVC tubing
- Stainless steel tunable head
- Full range acoustic valve stem
- Custom eartips
BEST FOR MEDICAL STUDENTS
This affordable model could’ve been in the budget category, but its features make it a great all-around model. It features a metal O-ring that is easily removed for cleaning, a tunable headpiece, and good overall durability.
Its reliable acoustic performance has the flexibility to hear the full range of sounds. The latex-free matte finish tubing is durable, resisting oil and stains.
- Tunable head
- Removable metal O-ring
BEST FOR DOCTORS
Get Littmann quality but without the heavyweight hanging around your neck. This stethoscope features a teardrop shaped head for an easy fit under blood pressure cuffs, an anatomically designed headset plus a non-chill rim and diaphragm for patient comfort.
The dual-head diaphragm is tunable. Great for when you have to work fast, with superior acoustic quality.
- Teardrop dual-head design
- Non-chill tunable diaphragm
- Anatomically-designed eartips
- Natural rubber latex
BEST BUDGET CHOICE
Offers all the great features of the MDF One – especially the lifetime warranty and parts – all at an affordable price. You get a handcrafted, lightweight design that’s durable with good performance.
The patented SafetyLock eartip adapters give you safety plus comfort.
- Dual Head
- Lightweight design
- SafetyLock Eartips
- Lifetime warranty & parts
BEST PEDIATRIC STETHOSCOPE
Make it fun with a panda, tiger or koala head for your pediatric stethoscope. With amazing acoustic performance and compact, comfortable design, it makes taking a listen to a kid’s internals easy.
Made with aluminum alloy binaurals and latex-free tubing, the Adscope Adimals design is sturdy and light. You’ll get 7 different interchangeable animal heads to keep your little patients entertained.
- Tunable head
- 7 animal head designs
- Aluminum alloy construction
- Lifetime warranty
BEST FOR ICU NURSES
With the MDF ProCardinal C3 Cardiology stethoscope you get 3 in 1: adult, pediatric and infant chestpieces. With two sound channels and dual lumen tubing, even the faintest sounds will come through loud and clear.
the ErgonoMax angled headset provides utmost comfort with its anatomical design – plus, you get free parts for life.
- 3 Chestpieces
- Superior acoustic quality
- Lifetime parts
- Ergonomic design
BEST FOR PARAMEDICS
This Sprague Rappaport dual-tube model does double duty for adults and children, offering high acoustic sensitivity, a specially designed non-chill head for pediatric patients, a dual-head, and latex-free tubing.
The stainless steel and aluminum alloy design is lightweight and sturdy.
- Stainless steel dual-head
- Sprague Rappaport double tube design
BEST FOR CARDIOLOGISTS
Offers the highest acoustic quality headpiece, tunable diaphragm, special procedures adapter and anatomically designed headset. Great for cardiologists, anesthesiologists, EMTs, pediatricians, internists, and more.
The anatomically-designed headset is perfectly angled to meet your ear canal for comfort and safety.
- Highest acoustic quality
- Tunable head
- Special procedures adapter
- Stainless steel construction
- Soft-sealing eartips
BEST FOR EMT
With adjustable frequency design, sculpted chestpiece, high-performance headset, silicone eartips, and lifetime warranty, it’s a great choice for your cardiac stethoscope.
The anodized aluminum binaurals are sturdy and lightweight while the Adsoft Plus silicone eartips give you maximum comfort.
- Adjustable frequency head
- Sculpted chestpiece
- Lightweight aluminum design
- Adsoft Plus eartips
BEST FOR HEARING IMPAIRED
There’s a reason Littman is top of the list. The Cardiology IV stethoscope offers you the same superb acoustic quality and design of the Master Cardiology at an even better price.
So if you’re hearing-impaired, with the Cardiology IV stethoscope, you won’t miss a thing.
Performs in any setting from the ER and the ICU to Cardiac and step-down units. Ergonomic design includes a 40% larger chest piece and 60% deeper bell than the Classic III.
- Tunable diaphragm
- Dual head
- Comfortable ear tips
- Dual-lumen tube design
BEST FOR VET TECHS
When you’re lending a hand to man’s best friend, you need a stethoscope that’s just right for your furry pal.
The Prestige Medical Veterinary Clinic I have all the options you’ll need with high-performance acoustics, a stainless steel chestpiece, and long, thick-walled tubing.
- Stainless steel design
- Thick-walled tubing
- Superb acoustics
- Extra diaphragm
BEST FOR PHYSICAL THERAPY
The Welch Allyn Adult Professional stethoscope is perfect for general auscultation and taking blood pressure readings for physical therapy.
Whether your monitoring heart rate or listening in on lung function, the stainless-steel double-head design provides great acoustic quality.
The rotatable binaurals and interchangeable eartips give you all-day comfort – and the non-chill rim is comfortable for your patients.
- Stainless steel double head
- Non-chill rim
- Rotatable binaurals
BEST FOR LUNG SOUNDS
The ADC Adscope Lite 612 Clinician stethoscope offers an adjustable frequency design which gives you the performance of both a diaphragm and bell all in one piece.
You get a reinforced yoke, stainless steel binaurals, Adsoft Plus eartips, and 22-inch PVC tubing – all in a 4.9 oz package.
- Adjustable frequency head
- Stainless steel design
- PVC tubing
- Only 4.9 oz
BEST DIGITAL STETHOSCOPE
Upgrade your favorite regular stethoscope to a digital one with the Eko Digital Stethoscope Attachment. The dual nozzle design easily attaches to existing stethoscope tubing, enhancing auscultation with sound amplification, active noise cancellation, and powerful software.
It’s compatible with most major brands including Littman, ADC, WelchAllyn, MDF, and Medine with no alterations necessary.
- Powerful software
- Sound amplification
- Noise reduction
- No alterations necessary
BEST ELECTRONIC, AMPLIFIED STETHOSCOPE
There’s a reason Littmann keeps popping up in the best of the best stethoscopes, and their 3200BK electronic model is at the top of the list.
With a 10+ rated acoustic performance, ambient noise reduction, aerospace alloy design, and Bluetooth connectivity, it’ll meet and exceed your needs and expectations.
- Aerospace alloy design
- 10+ acoustic performance rating
- Bluetooth connectivity
- Ambient noise reduction
How Do I Choose A Good Stethoscope?
When you’re shopping for your stethoscope, you’ll see a couple of features that most will offer. Here’s a brief rundown of the most common stethoscope features.
A tunable head allows you to easily switch between high and low-frequency sounds by applying pressure to the back of the chestpiece head.
The bell-shaped metal piece on the back of the diaphragm that amplifies low-frequency sounds. Some models may have two. Some brands like ADC have adjustable frequency technology that gives you the performance of a diaphragm and bell all in one piece.
A non-chill ring is for patient comfort so they don’t get the shock of being touched with a piece of cold metal.
Some people are allergic to latex, so some stethoscopes use PVC or other materials that are latex-free.
Silicone ear tips give you way more comfort by gently conforming to the shape of your ear so your ears don’t get sore after you’ve been using your stethoscope all day.
To recap – you want to consider the frequency of use, how you’ll be using it, where you’ll be using it, and most of all, how comfortable it will be. You also need to buy one with the level of sensitivity and performance you’ll need from your stethoscope.
A Short History Of The Stethoscope
Until the 1800s, early physicians and healers had limited options to discerning the internal goings-on in their patients’ chest cavities.
They could use their hand to feel the heartbeat, percussion, or immediate auscultation – that is, just putting their ear to their patient’s chest. While this did let them listen to the heart and lungs, it was limited by the fact that there was no amplification of the sound.
In 1816, a breakthrough happened via a French doctor named René Théophile Hyacinthe Laënnec (1781–1826). When he was hesitant to put his ear to the chest of a female patient, he rolled a piece of paper into a tube, put it over her heart, and had a listen.
The clarity and sound quality of the heartbeat astonished him so much that he developed a wooden tube that became the first functioning stethoscope.
By 1851, the binaural stethoscope, which we would recognize today, was developed. Though there have been many improvements, the modern stethoscope that nurses and doctors use daily is pretty much this same basic design.
What A Stethoscope Does
A stethoscope’s job is pretty straightforward and simple – it transmits and magnifies sound. This is called auscultation – or listening to the sounds made by the body’s internal organs.
There’s nothing fancy or complicated about it. That’s why even in the 21st century, the design of the stethoscope is pretty much the same as it was in the 19th century.
It’s a quick and easy way to have a listen to a patient’s heart, lungs, and gastrointestinal system to hear the tell-tale signs of a problem.
Many stethoscopes have a diaphragm and bell on the chest piece which amplifies high and low-frequency sounds.
Parts Of A Stethoscope
Looking at a stethoscope, the casual observer usually identifies three parts: the headset, the tubing, and the head (the part you press to a patient’s body).
That’s it in the basic, but there are actually 7 parts to modern stethoscopes, these are:
Headset– is the entire upper part of the stethoscope, including the ear tips and metal tube that attaches to the listening tubes.
Ear tubes– the hollow metal tubes that the sound travels up and to your ears.
Eartips – the part you insert to your ear, usually covered with silicone or rubber tips for comfort.
Acoustic tubing – made from silicone, latex or PVC and used both to give you some reach and for the sound to travel up from the chest piece – some stethoscopes use two, some only have one tube.
Stem – a small metal tube that attaches the acoustic tubing to the chest piece.
Chestpiece – this is the metal head that is held against the patient’s body and what transmits the sound to your ears – includes the stem and diaphragm/bell.
Diaphragm/Bell – the diaphragm is the flat part of the head with a membrane that vibrates to transmit sound – some maybe anti-chill for patient comfort. The bell is curved metal and made to listen for lower-frequency sounds.
Many stethoscopes are dual-head having both of these features.
Different Types Of Chestpieces
Above, we mentioned the chest piece of a stethoscope and if you’re shopping for one you may notice that some have a single head, dual head, or triple head feature.
All stethoscopes will have the general use diaphragm that picks up most high-frequency sounds like the heartbeat and lung sounds. But some also include one or two bells
Let’s break them down:
Diaphragm – the diaphragm part of the chestpiece is the most recognizable because most stethoscopes have one. It’s a flat disk with a membrane that vibrates to pick up and transmit body sounds.
Sometimes they are non-chill to keep your patient from flinching when you touch it to them.
Many diaphragms are “tunable” which means that you can hear different types of sound (high or low frequency) by pressing down on the back of it. The harder you push, the higher the frequency sound you hear.
Bell – the bell-shaped, circular metal part on the back of the diaphragm is, well – the bell. Its narrower, curved design is better for listening to lower-frequency sounds like those in the intestines or if you’re listening for a heart murmur.
Some stethoscopes have two bells and are called a triple-head design.
Types Of Stethoscopes
While all stethoscopes do the exact same thing, there are certain features and specializations that make some stethoscopes better suited for certain situations that require either higher sensitivity for fainter sounds or a smaller size for small bodies.
Here’s some examples:
The stethoscope with the smallest chestpiece (2cm) for listening in on newborn patients. These are usually highly sensitive and have noise-cancelling features which allows precise auscultation minus outside sounds interfering.
Most have non-latex tubes to avoid allergic reactions from sensitive newborn skin and a non-chill ring.
The infant stethoscope has most of the same features as the neonatal but it’s just a little bigger with the chestpiece being around 2.6cm in size.
Pretty much like a normal stethoscope, except the chestpiece is a tad smaller, for more accurate placement on a child’s body.
They have all the same features as the neonatal and infant models, but often you’ll see a pediatric stethoscope featuring bright colors and animal heads or other fun designs to make them less scary for kids.
In cardiology, you’re often listening for very faint sounds across the spectrum, so while a cardiology stethoscope may look like any other, their main feature is high-quality materials and advanced, sensitive chestpieces.
The tubing is high quality and thicker and the diaphragm is able to pick up sound that more basic models miss.
Usually made with a single tube that has a dual headset so both teacher and student can listen to the same sounds for instructional purposes.
The next step in stethoscopes – the electronic stethoscope uses digital sound-amplifying technology to listen in on even the faintest of sounds.
Not only does it amplify sound, it can filter out other sounds, ambient noise, and digitize the information for download via Bluetooth.
What Makes A Quality Stethoscope?
Materials and sensitivity.
There’s not much difference in stethoscopes when it comes to design. Sure, some may have a tunable head or triple head, but the design doesn’t change much.
What sets a quality stethoscope apart from a budget model is going to be quality of materials and the sensitivity of the chestpiece.
A high-quality stethoscope is going to have thicker tubing in both the headpiece and sound tubes. The chest-piece is also going to be high-quality and have a higher auditory sensitivity.
The binaurals (ear tubes) and headpiece will be made from stainless steel, which in addition to being sturdier, is going to give you better acoustic quality.
One drawback of this higher-quality build is going to be weight. Most top-of-the-line stethoscopes are heavier, so you’ll feel its weight around your neck.
What To Consider When Buying Your Stethoscope
If you’re a nurse, your stethoscope is going to live around your neck. You’re going to be using it daily, so you want one that works, is reliable, and comfortable.
There are several questions to ask when buying your stethoscope. How often will you be using it? How will you be using it? Where will you be using it? Will it be comfortable?
How Often Will You Be Using It?
If you’re a nursing school student or don’t use your stethoscope a lot, you may want to consider going with a budget model. They still get the job done without putting you out hundreds of dollars.
How Will It Be Used?
Are you a pediatric nurse listening to tiny bodies or are you a cardiac nurse needing high acoustic quality to hear a faint heart murmur? While most stethoscopes are great for general use, others are more sensitive and have specialized heads.
What Setting Will You Be Using It In?
Are you working in a calm family practice setting or a noisy ER? Some stethoscopes offer noise dampening that mutes outside sounds in loud environments and can amplify sound.
Will It Be Comfortable?
Comfort is a big consideration especially if you’ll be using it a lot. Higher quality stethoscopes are often heavier and you definitely want one that has comfortable, anatomically-designed earpieces.
So there you have the 16 top stethoscopes to choose from. Whatever your specialty and whoever you need to use it on, there’s the perfect stethoscope that’ll fit your needs and budget.