The stethoscope has been with us since the late 18th century, and has been a commonplace item in hospitals and doctor’s offices for more than 100 years. The stethoscope is an invaluable diagnostic tool that can be used effectively with just a modicum of training.
Stethoscopes are a must-have item for cardiologists, cardiac nurses, general practitioners, EMTs, military medical personnel, and medical students, and have become an increasingly popular item to have in the home first aid kit.
The following are the best stethoscopes on the market for 2021.
1. ADC Adscope 600 Platinum
ADC has emerged in recent years as a genuine competitor to long time industry leader Littman. Their Adscope 600 Platinum is an outstanding scope that is lightweight, durable and features an adjustable diaphragm for precise sound identification. There are spring-loaded binaurals topped with very comfortable eartips, and the Adscope 600 is available in 9 different colors. Or, if you like, in gold-plated titanium.
The Adscope 600 Platinum is engineered to exacting tolerances. It’s not going to start falling apart if you subject it to a few months of life in the ambulance. The chestpiece is molded to mimic human anatomy and feels very comfortable against the skin. The icing on the cake is an additional pair of Adsoft Plus eartips and the lifetime warranty, which it is unlikely you will ever need to invoke.
2. 3M Littmann Classic III Monitoring Stethoscope
For those new to the topic, Littman is the name in stethoscopes and has been pretty much ever since the 1960s when Dr. David Littman redesigned and redefined the modern stethoscope. The 3M Littmann Classic III Monitoring Stethoscope is, in our humble opinion, the best value among the various Littmann scopes. This is an all-purpose stethoscope with few equals.
The Classic III Monitoring Stethoscope will appeal to everyone from cardiologists to navy corpsmen to homeowners. It has excellent sound quality thanks to its single piece tunable diaphragm and nextgen tubing that resists the negative effects of contact with skin oil. You can also replace the bell resonator with a non-chill rim that won’t bother young children. If you are not sure which stethoscope to buy, you can’t go wrong with the Littmann Classic III.
3. Vitalwise Cardiology Stethoscope
Vitalwise does not have the name recognition of Littmann, but if they keep pumping out stethoscopes like this they will one day soon. The Vitalwise Cardiology Stethoscope is as effective as it is attractive and durable. It is comfortable for both health professional and patient, lightweight so it can be carried all day long, and produces outstanding sound quality.
General practitioners, EMTs, pediatricians, nurses, medical students and homeowners will all find a lot to like with the Vitalwise Cardiology Stethoscope. Unlike many of today’s scopes it comes with its own handsome carrying case, so you can safely stow it around the house or take it with you when you travel. The company offers a 30 day no-questions money-back guarantee and a lifetime replacement guarantee on parts and construction.
4. 3M Littmann Master Cardiology Stethoscope
The 3M Littmann Master Cardiology Stethoscope produces some of the highest quality audio you will get in an acoustic stethoscope at any price. The Master Cardiology Stethoscope features dual-lumen tubing, and an ergonomically shaped stainless steel chestpiece and produces virtually no noise interference. Perfect for everyone from cardiologists to pediatricians.
The Master Cardiology has a tunable diaphragm, which goes a long way toward explaining the outstanding audio quality. There is also a Special Procedures Adaptor that can be used with young children, and is included here for free. The scope is very durable and should stand up to years of use. Whether you are indeed a master cardiologist or a master EMT or army medic, you’ll find this Littmann stethoscope delivers everything you need.
5. Ever Ready First Aid Dual Head Stethoscope
The Ever Ready First Aid Dual Head Stethoscope is one of the best values you’ll find in any type of medical equipment. While it won’t produce the type of crystal clear audio of the Littmann Master Cardiology, the sound quality is more than adequate for people who need to make important decisions in a hurry in order to stabilize patients before transporting them. That would of course include EMTs, rescue workers and military medics.
This is a dual-head stethoscope that’s equally effective on adults and kids. The dual-lumen design also negates some of the audio interference you’ll find in twin tube designs. Build quality is generally very good, and with a 27 inch tube you don’t have to get right in anyone’s face to obtain the information you need.
6. MDF MD One
The MDF MD One is the Gucci of stethoscopes. We mean that in the sense that it is meticulously crafted and undeniably attractive. It’s available in a bevy of different colors and patterns to meet every mood or setting. But it’s much more than just a pretty face. It produces high-quality sound right across the audio spectrum. And it is much tougher than its handsome exterior lets on.
Pediatricians, people who work in high-end clinics or hospitals, or any medical professional for that matter who just wants equipment that provides outstanding functionality, will find a lot to like in the MDF MD One. The eartips are all-day comfortable. The chestpiece is well-designed and does not require you to press down. And the lifetime warranty on parts and construction means that you have nothing to lose.
7. Mabis Spectrum Lightweight Stethoscope
You can spend quite a bit on a top of the line stethoscope or, if you are simply looking for a dependable scope to keep around the house or to use as a backup, you can pick up the surprisingly effective Mabis Spectrum Lightweight Stethoscope. This is another great value scope that is ideal for those who may only need it occasionally. Or, who want to keep a backup handy in case of emergency.
This is a single-sided stethoscope that features a 30 inch overall length so you don’t have to get right on top of your subjects. Important in this day and age. Audio quality is good to very good, the scope is reasonably light, and the stethoscope is available in 4 colors. Perhaps surprisingly there is also a lifetime warranty covering manufacturer’s defects.
8. Paramed Dual Head Cardiology Stethoscope
The Paramed Dual Head Cardiology Stethoscope combines outstanding performance, intense durability, and a high degree of versatility in one very reasonably priced medical device. This is a good choice for families with young children, EMTs that encounter a variety of people during the exercise of their duties as well as emergency room personnel.
The Paramed Dual Head Stethoscope features a 360 degree rotating design, comes with 4 different ear tips and also provides an extra diaphragm and a handsome carrying case. Overall length of this stethoscope is 29 inches, which means you can put some space between yourself and the person you’re checking on. And the tubing is made of latex free material. If there is a downside it’s that audio quality at the high end of the spectrum is not what it is with some other scopes.
9. FriCare Rose Gold Stethoscope
The FriCare Rose Gold Stethoscope is another of those designer stethoscopes that will make you look great while you carry out your duties in the hospital or clinic. Fortunately, besides being attractive it also produces high-end audio quality, is all-day comfortable, and weighs a scant 3.5 ounces. The dual-lumen tubing is latex free and stain-resistant, while the chestpiece will adapt to adults or children of all ages.
If you are looking for a scope to add to your home first aid kit this is a great choice. It comes with a very practical and durable carrying case, which ensures the stethoscope will be in tip top shape even if you go months between using it. The dual head design means it will serve your elderly parents just as well as it does your young children, and yourself. Comes with a lifetime warranty on construction and parts and a 5 year service guarantee.
10. 3M Littmann Cardiology IV Stethoscope
The 3M Littmann Cardiology IV Stethoscope is yet another high-performance scope from Littman. The build quality here is beyond reproach. It’s light and responsive and dependable in all conditions, and it features an extra large chestpiece so you don’t have to fumble around trying to make a good connection with the patient.
That extra large chestpiece we mentioned is dual-sided and tunable, so you can pick up even the faintest murmurs or other anomalies. The eartips are soft-sealing, meaning they expand gently inside your ear to block out extraneous noise. And the dual-lumen tubing is 100% free of latex. There’s also a lifetime warranty on parts and construction.
What Is a Stethoscope?
A stethoscope is a medical device designed to detect the sounds generated inside the body of a human or animal. The stethoscope is comprised of a disc-shaped end called a ‘resonator’ that is placed against the body, one or two narrow tubes that run from the resonator to the ears, and two earpieces that deliver the detected sound to the listening person. While most often used to listen to the heart, the stethoscope is also used to listen to the lungs and intestines, as well as blood flowing through the arteries.
What are the Benefits of a Stethoscope?
A stethoscope is easy to use. Unlike many pieces of modern medical technology that require extensive training to master, virtually anyone can use a stethoscope. All one really needs to know is what to listen for, and how to interpret what they are hearing in a rudimentary fashion.
A stethoscope is a must have for front-line medical personnel. Anyone on the front lines of medicine, such as an EMT or an emergency room nurse or doctor, needs to have a stethoscope on hand at all times. They provide basic but vital information on the state of the person being treated that enables the medical professional to make quick, appropriate decisions regarding the right course of action.
A stethoscope can be valuable to have around the house. Nearly every household has a thermometer (1) on hand. And for good reason. It allows parents or individuals to obtain fast, accurate information regarding their own or a loved one’s health. The same applies to a stethoscope. It can provide important information regarding individuals who have cardiovascular problems, or may be at risk of developing them. This information could be relayed to EMTs in the event of an emergency and wind up making the difference between life and death.
Stethoscopes are durable. Stethoscopes are designed to withstand the rigors of the medical profession. The people that engineer stethoscopes understand that EMTs, army medics (2), emergency room nurses and the like are often operating in less than ideal circumstances and that there isn’t always time to handle the stethoscope with kid gloves.
Stethoscopes are affordable. Above we mentioned that stethoscopes are much easier to use than most other medical equipment. They also have the benefit of being much, much less expensive. Whether you are buying a stethoscope to have in the home, or are about to embark on a career in medicine, you will find the stethoscope to be very agreeably priced and a solid investment that will pay handsome dividends for years to come.
Who Needs a Stethoscope?
The stethoscope is a versatile diagnostic tool that is used by a variety of people including medical professionals, parents and more. Here are some of the people that commonly find themselves using a stethoscope.
Cardiologists – The first and most obvious entry on our list is the cardiologist (3). They specialize in all things related to the heart, so it makes perfect sense that the stethoscope would be one of their primary diagnostic tools. And because they need to obtain as much useful information as possible the cardiologist will want to arm themselves with a top of the line stethoscope that can pick up on the most subtle of sounds and return crystal clear audio.
Cardiac Nurses – The cardiac nurse is another medical professional who makes the heart their business. As such, they too will want to have a stethoscope that is capable of picking up discreet sounds lesser ‘scopes may miss. Because the cardiac nurse is on her or his feet for long hours they may want a stethoscope that is as light as possible.
RNs – The job of the registered nurse is not one that is heart-centric. Nonetheless, they need to have a stethoscope on hand at all times in case a patient is experiencing cardiovascular issues. An RN may go several days at a time without using their stethoscope, but they need to have one handy, just in case. RNs typically prefer lightweight stethoscopes because they spend long hours on their feet.
General Practitioners – With widespread specialization in the medical industry the general practitioner is something of a dying breed. Still, these ‘family doctors’ need to have a stethoscope on hand and will likely put it to use several times per day. GPs are not heart specialists but they need a stethoscope when performing physical exams or trying to diagnose common ailments in their patients.
Army Medics and Navy Corpsmen – Military medical personal work under conditions most of us cannot imagine (4). They regularly are faced with horrific situations where they must make life or death decisions while under fire. They need to know exactly what is going on with a patient as quickly as possible so they can stabilize them and evacuate them for proper treatment. As such they need a durable, reliable stethoscope that can take lots of punishment.
EMTs – Like army medics or navy corpsmen the EMT is often faced with gruesome situations that nonetheless require them to obtain accurate information regarding the state of a patient as quickly as possible. They need a stethoscope at the ready at all times. One that will stand up to the rigors of the job and the outdoor environment.
Pediatricians – Pediatricians are doctors that specialize in the care of children and teens. While people that age do not suffer heart disease at the same rate as older adults, it is still important for the pediatrician to monitor the health of young people’s hearts. In order to put young children at ease the pediatrician will often use a stethoscope that is brightly colored and less intimidating-looking.
Medical students – Which stethoscope a medical student chooses will depend in large part on which line of medicine they plan to pursue. If they intend to become a cardiologist or cardiac surgeon they will need a top of the line stethoscope. If, on the other hand, they plan to open a general practice, they won’t have a pressing need for the most sensitive, most expensive stethoscope.
What is the Difference Between an Acoustic and Electronic Stethoscope?
There are two kinds of stethoscopes, acoustic and electronic. The following are the differences between the two.
Acoustic Stethoscopes – The acoustic stethoscope is what most people think of when they think of stethoscopes. And, indeed, they are the type that most medical professionals use in most situations. And the kind most homeowners will purchase to have in the house. The heart (so to speak) of the acoustic stethoscope is the resonator. The resonator may only have a diaphragm. Or it may have two sides with a diaphragm on one side and a bell cup on the other. With the diaphragm, high frequency sound waves are captured and move up the tubes to the earpieces. With the bell, physical vibrations of the skin produce low frequency sound waves that move up the tubes to the earpieces. The diaphragm is the most common type of resonator.
Electronic Stethoscopes – Electronic stethoscopes work on the same basic principles as the acoustic scope. But they include a device that amplifies the sound waves captured by the resonator. Some electronic stethoscopes can be hooked up to a laptop to record the sounds for later playback and analysis. It is still pretty rare to encounter an electronic stethoscope in a medical situation. The vast majority of health professionals use acoustic scopes.
Does the Length of the Tubing Make a Difference?
The farther they travel from the source the more sound waves dissipate (5). This is why you cannot hear things in New York that happen in London. The same is true for stethoscopes. The longer the tube the weaker the sound wave will be when it reaches the earpiece. However, and this is a big however, the distance involved is so short that no one but the most highly-trained professional is likely to discern the difference in sound quality between a stethoscope with short tubes and one with longer tubes.
What Conditions Can be Diagnosed with a Stethoscope?
Although there are more sophisticated devices that will paint a much clearer picture of heart function, a skilled medical practitioner can still diagnose quite a few potential conditions using only a stethoscope. Systolic heart failure (6), diastolic heart failure (7) and heart murmurs (8) can all be detected using an ordinary acoustic stethoscope.
Can a Broken Stethoscope be Fixed?
It depends on the type and extent of the damage. In most cases a stethoscope can be repaired as long as the damage is not too severe. That said, if you did not pay top dollar for your now broken stethoscope, it may be more cost-effective to simply buy a new one. Simple things like tubes are cheap to replace. While a damaged diaphragm is not.
How Long Will a Stethoscope Last?
Stethoscopes are like anything else in that you pretty much get what you pay for. The top of the line stethoscopes are built to last years, even when used in demanding conditions. Some of the scopes occupying the low end of the price spectrum might need to be replaced after just a couple of years, if they are used a lot.
The Bottom Line
The stethoscope is an invaluable diagnostic tool that has been a medical mainstay for more than a century. One of its many advantages is that, with just a modicum of training, it can be effectively used by almost anyone. It is also compact, affordable and works even if the power goes out.
Modern stethoscopes are a must-have item for cardiologists, cardiac nurses, general practitioners, EMTs, military medical personnel, and medical students. While at the same time, an increasing number of families and individuals are discovering the value of having a stethoscope in their home first aid kit next to the thermometer.
Use the information in the above guide to determine which of our best stethoscopes is the right one for you.
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