What Exactly Is a Stethoscope?
Stethoscopes are undoubtedly one of the most important pieces of equipment for medical professionals. Using a stethoscope, nurses and EMTs can diagnose heart malfunction and detect pulmonary issues before they become serious.
Among diagnostic tools, stethoscopes are most frequently used, and you rarely see a medical professional without a stethoscope. A recent study has also indicated that stethoscopes evoke patients’ trust and confidence.
This article reviews the best stethoscope for nurses, doctors and EMTs, but before taking a look at the best models available, let’s briefly recap the history of stethoscopes and go over the different types of stethoscopes available.
Brief History of Stethoscopes
The very first stethoscope was made by a French doctor, nearly 200 years ago. He used paper and wood to make what was in essence, a listening device. The word stethoscope comes from the two Greek words “stethos” meaning “chest”, and “skopein” meaning “view”. The process of using the stethoscope became known as “auscultation”.
More and more doctors started using this rather rudimentary tool. Only just over 50 years ago, DrLittmann, a Harvard School of Medicine professor, patented a much more sophisticated stethoscope. Today, Littmann stethoscopes are among the most popular.
There are many different types of stethoscopes including acoustic, electronic, fetal, Doppler, cardiology, and pediatric stethoscopes. The vast majority of nurses and EMTs use acoustic stethoscopes, though some may also use electronic stethoscopes.
Acoustic stethoscopes are the most popular stethoscopes among nurses and EMTs and are considered to be the most reliable. All you need is a good pair of ears, no other equipment is required.
Acoustic stethoscopes work on the principle of sound waves traveling from the chest piece along the tubes and eventually reaching the medical professional’s ears. The bell or diaphragm is placed on the patient’s chest. The chest vibrations are picked up by one or two membranes that transmit the resulting sound along the tube to the medical professional’s ears. The two eartips, or olives, are designed to keep out interfering outside noise and maximize the quality of the transmitted sounds.
Traditional acoustic stethoscopes have two sides of differing sizes. While the larger side, called the diaphragm, picks up higher frequencies, the smaller side, or bell, is designed to pick up lower frequencies.
Littmann stethoscopes or stethoscopes of similar design are slightly different because they feature dual frequency membranes on the diaphragm and the bell. If a medic wants to listen to higher frequencies, she/he applies a little more pressure and when listening to lower frequencies, the bell or diaphragm is simply placed on the patient.
Medics can use the larger side, the diaphragm, when examining an adult and the smaller side, the bell, for kids or infants.
Most acoustic stethoscopes are specifically designed to maximize the sound quality, while minimizing interference and background noise.
Electronic stethoscopes appeared on the market a few years ago. In essence, the sound quality is superior to acoustic stethoscopes and the accompanying software allows medics to record and analyze the collected data in a considerably more sophisticated manner. The drawback is, however, that auxiliary equipment is required to avail of all the additional features and that’s perhaps the reason most nurses and EMTs prefer acoustic stethoscopes.
Unlike acoustic stethoscopes, electronic stethoscopes require batteries which may be a disadvantage. The electronic stethoscope’s additional features include, sound amplification system to enhance the quality of the transmitted sounds, noise reduction to muffle outside noise or interference, and wireless connectivity as well as relevant software for data recording and analysis purposes.
Electronic stethoscopes are predominantly used by cardiologists, pulmonologists, and other specialists, even though some emergency staff do opt for electronic stethoscopes to avail of the analytical and recording features.
Electronic stethoscopes are considerably more expensive than acoustic stethoscopes.
Best Stethoscopes For Doctors, EMTs and ER Nurses
The following reviews cover the most popular stethoscopes among nurses and EMTs. All of the features stethoscopes have been awarded four or more stars. We have looked at the price, features, materials, performance, and have also included some everyday experiences.
#1 3M Littmann 6166 Cardiology IV Stethoscope, Smoke-Finish Chestpiece, Plum Tube, Smoke Stem and Headset, 27″ Review
- Excellent sound quality for high frequencies when applying pressure
- Diaphragm is tunable by varying applied pressure
- Single tube with two layers to maximize sound quality and minimize outside noise
- Durable tubing
- Easily adjustable headset also featuring angled-ear tubes to optimize alignment with the ears
This acoustic stethoscope has been rated 5 stars and comes at a price of around $185, making it considerably more expensive than many other stethoscopes with similar features.
What We Think
Having upgraded from an older Littmann model after a whopping seven years, we were blown away by the superb sound quality. Auscultation is exceedingly easy and you can hear heart as well as lung sounds extremely clearly. The single tubing is superbly designed for top class sound quality, the stethoscope is lightweight. and we just love all the funky colors this stethoscope is available in.
Most Littmann stethoscopes lasts for many years and the price is therefore entirely justifiable. No doubt this is one of the very best stethoscopes on the market.
#2 3M Littmann Master Classic II Stethoscope, Caribbean Blue Tube, 27 inch, 2630 Review
- Ergonomic design for ultimate comfort
- Latex-free for allergy sufferers
- Superior sound quality
- Captures high and low frequencies by varying application pressure
- Tunable diaphragm
- Headset designed to grant optimum access to the ear canal
- Increase patient comfort thanks to non-chill rim and diaphragm
At just over $110 this acoustic stethoscope is a true bargain without compromising the sound quality.
What We Think
We tried the Master Classic to see how it would compare with the Littmann Master Cardiology, expecting considerably lower sound quality. Much to our surprise, the sound quality of this model is superb and it’s easy to hear murmurs and s3 and s4s. Many of our EMT friends were equally impressed, particularly with the ear tips. Amazingly, the sound quality is so good that you can hear it in the back of an ambulance, even when driving. Murmurs, bowels sounds, and heart sounds are easily audible. The single tubing doesn’t compromise the sound quality either. Considering that this stethoscope is priced far lower than the Master Cardiology ,delivering practically the same sound quality, this is a great buy for any EMT or nurse.
#3 MDF MD One Stainless Steel Premium Dual Head Stethoscope – Rose Gold Edition – Black (MDF777RG-11) Review
- Stainless steel chestpiece for superb sound quality
- Life-long free parts replacement
- Dual head
- Ultra durable thanks to dual-leaf spring construction
- For extra comfort, ear tips are available in 3 sizes and come under the lifetime free replacement parts guarantee
- Industry-leading, patented safety ear-lock adaptors to protect eardrums
- MDF tubing is also included in the lifetime warranty
- Optimum acoustic tube insulation to deliver top sound quality and minimize interference
Priced at the $80 mark, this stethoscope is great value, especially given the lifetime part replacement guarantee. This acoustic stethoscope is rated four and a half stars by hundreds of happy users.
What We Think
Having tried out a variety of stethoscopes, this one is better than the Littmann Classic II and III but not as good as the Littmann Master Classic or Cardio. If you are looking for a good middle-of-the-road stethoscope, you can’t go wrong here, particularly when you take the price and lifetime parts warranty into consideration.
The tubing is just the right length and the sound quality is excellent. The different ear tip sizes are also very convenient. Apart from the comfortable fit and excellent auscultation, this stethoscope is also super stylish and much loved by nurses.
#4 ADC Adscope 609ST Stethoscope, Stealth Black Review
- Rock-bottom price
- 5-year warranty
- Superb sound quality
- Lightweight at just around 100g
- Non-chill diaphragm for patient comfort
- Free replacement parts when registered
- Comes with spare diaphragm and ear tips
- Diaphragm for high frequencies and bell for low frequencies
If you are looking for a bargain stethoscope that still delivers good sound quality, this is the stethoscope for you. It costs less than $20, comes with a 5-year warranty, free consumables, and excellent auscultation. It should come as no surprise that this stethoscope consistently receives 4 or 5 star ratings.
What We Think
Having used a Littmann for quite some time, we expected this bottom-price stethoscope to produce considerably inferior sound quality. We were wrong! The sound quality is excellent, the headset is very comfortable and the entire stethoscope is feather-light. It’s easy to hear lung and heart sounds or take blood pressure.
Many students use this stethoscope, however, lots of nurses have been surprised by the superior sound quality and sturdy design. The warranty and free parts replacement make this stethoscope an even better buy.
#5 ADC Adscope 600 Cardiology Stethoscope with Tunable AFD Technology, 27″ Length, Tactical All Black Review
- Enhanced acoustics thanks to adjustable frequency design (AFD)
- High and low frequency auscultation
- Dual-channel headset for optimum sound quality
- Tunable diaphragm
- Ergonomic design, comfortable silicone eartips
- Non-chill chestpiece for patient comfort
- Lifetime free consumables warranty
- Free ID tag
Rated consistently at 4 or 5 stars and priced reasonably at around $80, this stethoscope is popular among EMTs and nurses. At just below $90, this stethoscope is great value for money.
What We think
We found this stethoscope to be just a good as the Littmann Master Cardiology, perhaps even a bit better thanks to the super-comfortable eartips. The volume and sound quality is excellent, and the tubing is not too thick either. We could hear murmurs, heart and lung sound very easily and taking blood pressure is also no problem.
EMTs have been amazed by the sturdiness and durability of this stethoscope and all in all this stethoscope is excellent value for money while also delivering top-quality auscultation.
#6 Vorfreude Cardiology Stethoscope Lifetime Replacement Guarantee (27″ Black) Bonus: Name Tag, Classic Pupil Pen Light, Batteries, and Spare Parts; Diaphragm, Eartips. Lightweight Professional Gift Kit Review
- Lifetime replacement guarantee of entire stethoscope
- Excellent value
- Superior sound quality
- German engineering
- Complete kit includes carry case, spare ear tips and diaphragm, pupil pen, and batteries
- Ergonomically designed to fit perfectly into the ear without causing any discomfort.
- Thanks to the patented BiChannel, the stethoscope can be adjusted and provides a wide variety of canal vector alignments
- Dual tubing minimizes interference
- Tunable diaphragm
- Patented PressFrequency enhances precise auscultation
Price below $50, this stethoscope has consistently rated at 4 stars and is popular among nurses and EMTs thanks to the excellent quality and reasonable price.
What We Think
This stethoscope is excellent value and a great choice for EMTs and nurses. The sound quality is superb, there is virtually no interference and it’s very comfortable to wear. The German-engineered design and craftsmanship are also second to none.
Auscultation of heart, lung, and abdominal noise is exceedingly easy and the PressFrequency features only help to optimize.
All the extras are also great, you receive spare ear tips and a diaphragm, a pupil pen, batteries, and even a super-convenient carry case. It’s also a nice touch that you can have the entire stethoscope replaced throughout its lifetime.
This is definitely a great stethoscope for nurses and EMTs, the price is great without having to compromise on quality.
All of the above stethoscopes are an excellent choice for EMTs and nurses, and your choice will ultimately depend on your budget and you design preferences. While Littmann stethoscopes have been popular for many years, the other brands listed here deliver similar quality and performance at considerably lower prices. You may also want to keep in mind that stethoscopes often go missing in hospital wards. Consequently, you may not want to invest in the most expensive stethoscope unless you are prepared to guard it with your life. Also bear in mind that not all manufacturers provide free part replacements.
Ideally, you should check out your colleague’s stethoscopes to see which model suits you best, especially in terms of comfort. Having said that, you can’t go wrong with any of the above stethoscopes.