Choosing the optimum stethoscope to suit your practical needs can be tricky and overwhelming.
There are a multitude of quality stethoscope brands and all of these offer a wide selection, each type with its own varied attributes.
As technology evolves, so do the tools of your trade.
Stethoscopes available to you today may not have been on the market, had you been shopping for a new one five or ten years ago.
This can add to the difficulty of determination of the right match for your needs.
Because yours will be used daily and is a critical implement for treatment of patients, this is not a tool on which to make a quick decision.
A little research will go a long way.
Stethoscope Brands: The 5 Initial Considerations
When shopping for one there are a few aspects of each brand on which you should focus.
Doing so will help you make an informed and intelligent decision you will appreciate through extended use of whichever one you ultimately purchase.
It will also help you to eliminate options with unnecessary attributes or those that do not meet your field’s demands.
When reviewing stethoscope brands, consider these points of each company:
1. Overall suitability for your needs:
A medical student will have less intensive needs from use of their stethoscope, as compared to active nurses or doctors.
Similarly, a cardiac physician will require higher quality than an ENT, for example.
A military medic in the field will need greater durability and climate related attributes than an EMT in an urban environment.
Stethoscopes are also designed differently for specific types of patients.
A pediatric or neonatal stethoscope has a smaller head than one for adults or veterinary use.
And an obstetrician often uses a cone-shaped Pinard head for fetal sounds.
When seeking the right brand and product options, it is important to think about how you will use your stethoscope and what you require from that use.
2. Expected lifetime and durability of the brand’s stethoscopes:
A student likely only needs their first stethoscope to last a few years while they attend school.
Upgrade to a higher quality version usually follows internships or residency.
Warranties and durability may not be a big purchasing factor for such use.
However, an internal medicine physician or other practitioner relying more heavily on their stethoscope for diagnosis must consider its lifetime as important in the purchasing decision.
Durability can be a key issue for extensive use and more hectic environments, such as by an emergency room worker or military medical personnel.
Someone who is constantly using their stethoscope, putting it in their pocket and repeating this action throughout a day will find they wear out tubing more than a clinic-based doctor able to keep a different stethoscope in each exam room.
3. Acoustic quality of the product line:
Acoustic quality is more important for medical personnel in lifesaving or critical care roles than those in general or non-critical care positions.
A nursing assistant will only need to hear general sounds.
A cardiologist or obstetrician will need to hear the nuances of auscultation.
Including low and high pitches with clear definition and extreme sensitivity.
Pricing of individual stethoscopes can be where one sees the true cost of added instrument capabilities.
Paying for unneeded attributes can be a waste of money.
Ensuring each device is competitively priced according to how it performs is also key to making a good purchasing decision.
5. Brand reputation:
Reputation of any kind of brand or product line speaks loudly about what you can expect from the device if you purchase it.
If a majority of users have been pleased with a particular stethoscope brand, then you likely will have a positive experience, as well.
When comparing, make sure to check out the stethoscope brands reviews to ensure it’s got a great reputation.
Attributes and Pricing Varies From Brand to Brand
There are four primary and most widely accepted high quality manufacturers today.
Each has its own reputation, product attributes and pricing structure.
When looking for good stethoscope brands, these four medical stethoscope brands are a great place to start your comparison shopping.
1. Littmann Stethoscopes
Littmann Stethoscopes are designed and manufactured by 3M, a vast technology organization with a global reputation for quality in various fields.
This brand is named after Dr. David Littmann, a Harvard cardiologist who designed and patented an innovative stethoscope in the early 1960’s.
That device’s patent was sold to 3M shortly thereafter and the brand has continued to improve upon design, acoustics and technology since.
This brand is widely known for its quality.
As the organization has always been at the forefront of stethoscope technology, their advantage in the marketplace lies in that technological edge.
Their edge was first gained with Dr. Littmann’s original patents.
The product range for this brand starts with basic student or nursing assistant quality stethoscopes and ranges to highly technologically advanced cardiac models.
Pricing starts at about $50 at the bottom of the quality spectrum and ranges to $700 for their top quality versions.
Many buyers know that Littmann quality is usually worth the price.
A Littmann Stethoscope will primarily receive 4.5 to 5 star ratings by users of their product line who purchased their stethoscopes online.
For those who made these purchases, only between one and five percent of reviewers leave negative feedback for each of the brand’s products.
Positive feedback for Littmann stethoscopes is the overwhelming majority and includes:
“This is a good all-around stethoscope for nursing use.
It’s lightweight, has comfortable earpieces, and the sound is clear and easy to hear.
Cheaper scopes are certainly available, but you’ll be using this for years — and this one certainly holds up for years…my sister has been using hers since 1986.”
“I didn’t buy mine from Amazon this time but I always look at reviews here before buying something so I thought I’d write one for this place to help others out. I’ve had my scope for about 2 weeks now and it has performed exactly how I’d expect a Littmann scope would: wonderfully. Sounds are clear and loud, the tubing is a pleasing length, I just have no complaints at all about its function.”
Some negative feedback includes:
“Better invest a little more and upgrade to a Littmann Master Cardiology. This model hurt my ears every time I had to use it and the room have to be almost completely in silence to be able to listen to anything. Not a fan. Returned.”
“I purchased this stethoscope because I heard how great Littmanns were. Loved the color, but I have such a hard time hearing through it. Apical pulse is fine, blood pressure not so great but breath sounds are virtually impossible to hear. If you are going to get a new stethoscope, I would first go listen through them at a uniform shop before spending this kind of money.”
The average warranty for a Littmann is three years.
The range of warranty duration runs from two years to seven, depending upon which device is purchased.
These warranties cover material or manufacturing defects.
Repairs covered by warranty are provided without additional charge.
For repairs due to use or damage, parts can be purchased online or at a licensed retailer.
A wide variety of accessories are also available for personalization and accessibility of Littmann stethoscopes.
2. MDF Stethoscopes
Headquartered in Los Angeles and in business since 1971, MDF is a boutique designer and manufacturer of stethoscopes and other healthcare devices.
MDF is known for being price conscious, yet still delivers good quality.
The organization is also very involved in NGO healthcare, providing stethoscopes and other equipment to charitable organizations on a global scale.
The MDF product range starts with student, teaching and assisting ones starting at about $10.
The low price is attributable to manufacture in Asian markets.
Top-of-the-line pricing is at about $165 for a cardiology-quality stethoscope.
A benefit of the brand is their lifetime warranty and free-parts-for-life program.
MDF Stethoscope reviews are generally good, with most being between the 4.5 and 5 star range.
While this is similar to Littmann, the typical shopper and expectations for this brand differ.
MDF is good at delivering as promised and with great service.
However, parts tend to be lower quality and less expensive materials replicating the more durable and acoustically superior Littmanns.
MDFs are more for short-term or basic use.
Positive feedback for MDF stethoscopes includes:
“The best stethoscope I have had. Previously I used a Littmann Cardiology scope, which is excellent. This is even better as it has drastically reduced ambient sound, eg. scratching from clothes or skin movement.”
“Love it.Great sound quality and comfort. Thanks MDF!
An example of a typical negative review for the brand includes:
“Compared sound quality with a Littman stethoscope already owned (master classic II) and found the MDF sound to be less intense and inferior. The diaphragm quality is that of a cheap $30-40 stethoscope and the bell part is made of plastic! Otherwise everything came as it should with different ear pieces etc. and the stethoscope feels nice and light not to mention it looks different and interesting so it will attract attention.”
3. Welch Allyn Stethoscopes
Welch Allyn was started in 1915. Originally an entrepreneurial business of ophthalmoscopes, the company was launched with a line of eye diagnostic devices.
The brand later expanded to include other types of equipment, including stethoscopes.
The average price range for the Welch Allyn line runs from about $115 to almost $250.
This does not include their disposable, one-time use stethoscope for care of highly infectious patients.
Those are thrown away after one use to prevent spread of disease and start at under eight dollars.
Welch Allyn focuses upon delivery of mid-range quality stethoscopes for general use.
Their product line does include more advanced devices, such as those required by cardiologists.
By remaining within a niche of general health care, the brand has achieved a loyal following of medical personnel who favor their Harvey and Elite lines for dependability and cost-effective pricing.
Beneficial aspects of Welch Allyn’s repair services include free replacement models provided before repair of the customer’s device begins.
This enables medical personnel to have their own stethoscope repaired without having to borrow or purchase another one for use during the down time.
A standard warranty covers manufacturing and design defects. Parts and service are available through the brand’s website.
Positive customer feedback about Welch Allyn stethoscopes include:
“I have tried many stethoscopes including Littmann master cardiology and cardiology III, and this is hands down the loudest and clearest stethoscope I have ever used. I work in pediatrics and you can have a peds and adult size diaphragm while keeping a true bell.”
“Absolutely love this stethoscope, all though it is a little on the heavy side it works great and the sound it transmits is a great clean crisp quality.”
Negative feedback is most often from those needing a more advanced brand for intensive auscultation. Such comments include:
“For the money paid it was cheaply constructed. It’s not the quality their products used to be. Listening is difficult at best.”
“Poor acoustics; mediocre quality.”
4. UltraScope Stethoscopes
UltraScope launched in 1998 from Charlotte, North Carolina. The company is still headquartered and manufactured in that city.
The goal of the brand is to deliver good quality “everyman’s” stethoscopes at a good price.
Part of the brand’s differentiation is in its use of a single-sided head in place of a typical dual-sided head.
Beyond that, the line aims to be a mid-quality producer with a fashion focus.
Each one can be fully customized in trendy colors, with patterns, logos, identification labels and much more.
These can even be dressed up with “bling,” through brand-produced crystal charms.
The company focuses on manufacturing of just six standard stethoscopes and two teaching devices.
Pricing ranges from $40 to $155. The brand provides a lifetime, “no questions asked” warranty.
They also sell or provide replacement parts, including free eartips, diaphragms and retaining rings.
Positive feedback for UltraScope stethoscopes tends to include more of a focus on the “cuteness factor” than performance:
“Works pretty well. Love the colors. Get lots compliments.”
“I purchased this for my daughter who is attending a Technical College studying to be a Veterinary Technician. She is very pleased with the quality of sound and the style. She received oohs and aahs from students and professor as well.”
Negative feedback is much more rare and includes:
“It came defected. Everything I have ordered has been scratched or twisted up.”
Your Ultimate Stethoscope Awaits
In essence, a medical professional’s stethoscope is an extension of their ears and provides critical information needed to properly diagnose patients.
The type of stethoscope you require relies largely upon the type of health care you practice and expectations of your role.
Beyond those most important attributes are a wide variety of options you can choose to include in brand or product comparisons.
Using this initial perspective of four top stethoscope brands, decide which stethoscope manufacturer is right for you.
Explore that brand more deeply and get to know their product line.
Weigh what is most important to you and narrow down the field accordingly.
You will soon discover the right stethoscope is out there, waiting for your eyes to land upon it.