Three best stethoscopes
It might look like a simple piece of equipment, but the stethoscope is one of the most widely used diagnostic tools out there and a vital addition to any medical kit.
Whether you're a doctor, nurse, veterinarian, a trainee in any of these fields, or simply a concerned civilian, a good stethoscope can help you diagnose problems or monitor conditions. The trouble is, you still need to decide which stethoscope to buy. With so many different types available, it can be a tough decision.
We have compiled this guide to the best stethoscopes to make the process easier and help you find the right one for you.
Considerations when choosing stethoscopes
First, think about why you need a stethoscope. Are you a doctor or nurse, training to be one, or working in a similar healthcare setting? If so, you'll need a professional-grade stethoscope, but even then you'll find various options to choose from. For instance, some stethoscopes are designed for the field of cardiology, while others are for general use.
If you're not a healthcare professional, do you want a stethoscope to monitor your own heart or are you just buying one for fun or as a toy for a child interested in all things medical? The purpose behind your purchase will make a big difference in the kind you buy.
You'll find that most stethoscopes have one of three main types of chestpiece. Which one is right for you depends on how you'll be using your stethoscope.
Traditional dual-head chestpiece: Also known as "bell and diaphragm," this chestpiece features one wide, flat side (the diaphragm) for listening to higher-frequency sounds and one small, concave side (the bell) for listening to lower-frequency sounds. These stethoscopes come in adult and pediatric sizes.
Single-head tunable chestpiece: This type can be adjusted to listen to both high and low frequencies without turning it over. These chestpieces have excellent clarity and amplification, particularly when listening to the heart, so they're commonly used by cardiologists. Like traditional dual-head models, these come in large and small sizes for adult or pediatric use.
Double-head tunable chestpiece: This type is extremely versatile. Each side is adjustable for listening to both high and low frequencies. The difference is that one side is large, for adult patients, and the other side is small, for pediatric patients.
Always consider your budget when buying a stethoscope. High-end models can cost as much as $100 to $250, but they're only necessary for specialist medical professionals. Most nurses, medical students, and even many doctors use mid-range professional models that cost between $50 and $100. If you want a stethoscope for home use or as a fully functional toy, there's no need to spend more than $30 to $50.
Tubing material: The tubing on a stethoscope must be durable yet flexible, and it's usually made of either polyvinyl chloride (PVC) or latex rubber. Latex is a potential allergen, so most medical professionals opt for stethoscopes with PVC tubing.
Tubing style: The best stethoscopes have bi-lumen single tubing, which is two separate tubes molded into one outer tube. This allows for the best transmission of sound without interference, which can be an issue with standard double-tube stethoscopes.
Headset: The headset should be constructed from quality materials, such as stainless steel, for accurate acoustic transmission. It should also be comfortable to wear, and preferably adjustable, especially if you'll be using it day in, day out.
Q. How long should the tubing on my stethoscope be?
A. While short tubing can give clearer sound quality, it also means you have to lean in close to your patient, which can cause back pain over time. So, opt for a stethoscope with tubing short enough to give decent acoustic transmission but long enough to be comfortable to use.
Q. Are stethoscopes heavy?
A. Although they're not extremely heavy, some stethoscopes can start to feel bulky when you're carrying them around your neck for hours at a time. The trouble is that the elements that make a stethoscope feel weighty are the same ones that give them good acoustic transmission, so lightweight models are often inferior.
Stethoscopes we recommend
Best of the best: 3M Littmann Classic III Monitoring Stethoscope
Our take: This high-end stethoscope comes from a renowned brand and is used by medical professionals worldwide.
What we like: We love the clear acoustics and the fact the double-sided chestpiece is suitable for adults and children. Available in a wide range of colors.
What we dislike: The price tag is too high for casual use.
Best bang for your buck: 3M Littmann Lightweight II S.E. Stethoscope
Our take: A more affordable model than 3M Littmann's Classic III that's suitable for limited diagnostic use.
What we like: Stands out for being extremely lightweight without losing its reliable acoustic performance. The teardrop-shaped chestpiece easily slips under blood pressure cuffs.
What we dislike: Its size means it can only be used on adult patients.
Our take: A quality stethoscope that's good enough for clinical use but affordable enough to purchase for home use, too.
What we like: Extremely clear acoustics, especially for the price. Features a dual-head chestpiece. Stands up against high-end models.
What we dislike: Coating on metal parts chips and scratches over time.
Lauren Corona is a writer for BestReviews. BestReviews is a product review company with a singular mission: to help simplify your purchasing decisions and save you time and money. BestReviews never accepts free products from manufacturers and purchases every product it reviews with its own funds.
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