Stethoscopes are an essential part of any healthcare provider’s tool kit. At their core, they help amplify internal body sounds, aiding practitioners as they monitor patients’ health and make important diagnoses.
Stethoscope technology has evolved over the years, becoming more advanced and featuring impressive amplification levels and digital capabilities, among other innovations.
With so many available stethoscopes out there at varying price levels and with different features, how can you select the stethoscope that is perfectly tailored to your needs? Each practitioner needs to find the right stethoscope to support optimal patient outcomes, so throughout this guide, we will discuss the different types of stethoscopes and what considerations to make so you end up with the best fit for you.
Understanding Stethoscope Types
First, you should understand the two main types of stethoscopes: acoustic and electronic. Acoustic stethoscopes are the traditional type that may be most recognizable to you. They are used to perform auscultation to listen to the heart, lungs, and other organs by placing the diaphragm of the instrument against the patient’s skin.
On the other hand, electronic stethoscopes are digital versions of the traditional stethoscope. They require some battery or power supply in order to function, in addition to these other features:
- Acoustic sounds are converted to electrical signals
- Greater amplification and clarity of internal body sounds
- Can attach to a computer or other electronic device for further processing/analysis
While electronic stethoscopes have more advanced capabilities than previous models, acoustic stethoscopes are still widely used by practitioners today. Comparing digital vs. traditional stethoscopes, digital stethoscopes tend to be on the more expensive side. Plus, some providers don’t like the idea of needing to be connected to a power or battery source in order to use the instrument, which can be limiting in critical situations.
Key Stethoscope Features to Consider
When choosing a stethoscope, there are some key features and components that you’ll want to consider before making your selection, which we will cover in more detail below.
Material and Durability
A good stethoscope should be able to endure daily use and remain of good quality for a number of years before needing to be replaced. No matter which stethoscope brand or model you choose, make sure it’s made by a trusted manufacturer that is known for its quality and reliability.
Two of the most common materials you’ll find in stethoscopes are aluminum and rubber, so check to see if the stethoscope you’re interested in is made from top-quality versions of these materials. When low-quality aluminum or rubber is used in stethoscopes, it can impact both performance and comfortability.
We recommend that you consider Littmann stethoscopes for these reasons, a brand synonymous with excellence and quality. In other words, there’s a reason why Littmann® stethoscopes are #1 among healthcare providers. Aside from the many incredible characteristics of these stethoscopes, they are known for their durability and quality materials, while still being lightweight for comfortable daily use.
Type of Chestpieces
You should also pay attention to the type of chestpiece a stethoscope has to determine if it fits your needs. This is the component of the stethoscope that gets placed against the patient to hear internal sounds. Typically, a chestpiece is made of three components:
- Diaphragm: The larger flat side of the chestpiece
- Bell: The smaller concave side of the chestpiece
- Stem: The metal cylinder connecting the chestpiece to the tubing
Keep in mind that a diaphragm can be two-sided, two-sided and tunable, or one-sided and tunable, with the tunable feature meaning you can hear different frequencies of noises by applying different pressure to the patient’s body.
Each type has its own unique set of characteristics, so depending on your preferences, budget, clinical needs, and area of specialty, one of these options may be a better choice than the others. For example, cardiologists might prefer tunable stethoscopes for detailed cardiac auscultation, though a student may need a non-tunable stethoscope since they tend to be more affordable.
Quality of Tubing
The tubing of a stethoscope is the soft, flexible, and hollow component that connects the chestpiece to the ear tips. This component is how bodily sounds are transmitted from the chestpiece to the provider’s ears for auscultation.
Stethoscope tubing is commonly made from durable polyvinyl chloride (PVC), which is highly resistant to skin oils and alcohol. However, the tubing is often the stethoscope component that needs to be replaced most frequently, even though it can withstand a good amount of wear and tear.
The tubing eventually turns into the headset, which is typically made from steel or aluminum alloy with rubber or silicone ear tips on the end for comfortable wear in a practitioner’s ears.
Comfort and Fit
Possibly one of the most important aspects of a stethoscope that you should look for is comfort and fit. Since medical professionals utilize stethoscopes in their daily practice, they are often draped around the neck between uses.
For this reason, a lightweight stethoscope is preferred by many, making it comfortable to carry around and wear all day long without putting too much pressure or stress on the provider’s neck.
The ear tips included on the stethoscope also contribute to comfortability while the stethoscope is in use. Look for ear tips that are soft, adjustable, and seal properly within the ear for better auscultation and comfortable wear during long shifts.
Best Value Stethoscopes on the Market
Now with a better idea of some of the key components and characteristics you should look for in a stethoscope, we’d like to highlight some of the best value stethoscopes available today. These models are some of the top choices of medical providers today and are all made to the excellent standards of quality synonymous with the Littmann brand.
Littmann Master Cardiology Stethoscope, Brass Edition, 2175
The Littmann Master Cardiology Stethoscope, Brass Edition, 2175 stands out as an incredible value stethoscope that is highly versatile and has exceptional performance. Most notably, the tunable technology found in this model allows easy adjustment for hearing both low and high-frequency sounds.
This stethoscope also boasts advanced tubing that maintains shape and flexibility even when tightly folded, and resists staining and deterioration from alcohol, skin oils, and other substances. This model features innovative dual-lumen tubing, with two sound paths within one tub to prevent the rubbing noise found in traditional models.
With included large and small ear tips, customization for a perfect fit is simple, and the tubing is free from phthalate plasticizers. Plus, its polished brass design, paired with black tubing and ear tips, adds a stylish touch appreciated by healthcare professionals.
3M Littmann CORE Digital Stethoscope, Mirror, 8890
A more technologically advanced model is the 3M Littmann CORE Digital Stethoscope, Mirror, 8890, a cutting-edge instrument for modern healthcare professionals. This advanced model features up to 40x sound amplification and active noise cancellation, ensuring superior performance. In addition, users can access standout in-app sound wave visualization which enhances precision in patient monitoring and diagnosis.
With the ability to switch between analog and amplified listening modes, users never miss a beat. The dual-sided tunable chestpiece is suitable for both pediatric and adult patients, and the soft-sealing ear tips ensure comfort with excellent sound occlusion.
Littmann Cardiology IV Stethoscope, Black Red, 6200
You can also check out the Littmann Cardiology IV Stethoscope, Black Red, 6200 as a stethoscope of incredible value. Both stylish and highly versatile, this stethoscope can be used on both pediatric and adult patients. This limited edition is free from phthalate plasticizers and latex and features all-black tubing and ear tips with a vibrant red anodized stem for a distinctive look.
Its single-piece tunable diaphragm on both sides of the chestpiece ensures optimal sound quality with minimal interference. Plus, the soft-sealing ear tips provide comfort and a secure seal for proper auscultation.
Considering Stethoscope Value
There are some important considerations to keep in mind when selecting a stethoscope that you plan on using for the years to come. With so many great options available, choosing the best stethoscope often comes down to your own personal preferences, though you’ll want to ensure you’re getting a top-tier instrument made from high-quality materials, like those made by Littmann.
As you shop around for your next stethoscope, make sure you consider your specific needs and preferences so you can find the instrument that is right for you.