A Nurse’s Ultimate Guide to the Best Stethoscopes

stethoscopes for nurses

Have you ever felt naked without a reliable stethoscope hanging in your scrubs? You are not alone.

Stethoscopes serve as nurses’ guide when conducting physical assessments. Without a reliable stethoscope, making thorough and accurate assessments to your patients will be impossible.


Why Should You Invest On Good Stethoscopes?

Most hospitals require nurses to have their own stethoscopes. It’s one of the most frequently used medical devices in the hospital, so it’s best if you invest on something that lasts.

Here are the benefits of investing on good stethoscopes:


  • Convenience

Stethoscope serves as the extension of your senses when doing assessments. It’s convenient to have a quality stethoscope around, especially when you observe that there is something wrong with your patient that needs immediate assessment.


  • Quality

Why buy a cheap stethoscope if you can’t rely on it during actual emergencies? A quality stethoscope can last for a lifetime so it’s definitely worth the price. Plus, you might not be able to do proper auscultation if your stethoscope can’t give you decent sound quality.


  • Comfort

Have you ever used a low-quality stethoscope that is not yours? I bet it hurts your ears!  By getting your own quality stethoscope, you can ensure that it fits you well. Low-quality stethoscopes usually have defects that may cause discomforts in the long run.

stethoscopes for nurses

Types of Stethoscopes for Nurses

To help you choose the best stethoscope for you, take a look at the following types of stethoscopes:


1. By Head Type

Single Head Stethoscope

Single head stethoscopes are known for clear and wide frequency sound output. It allows the listener to focus in high or low frequency sounds. It is commonly recommended for general usage like taking vital signs and lung auscultation. It is also preferred for basic heart sound assessments.


Dual-Head Stethoscope

A dual-head stethoscope is more versatile to use than a single head stethoscope. It is composed of two heads – the diaphragm and the bell. The diaphragm is the flat part of the head that works great for high frequency sounds while the bell is the cup-like part of the head that works great for low frequency sounds.


Triple-Head Stethoscope

The triple-head stethoscope is designed to accurately hear and assess critical heart sounds. It is expensive and relatively heavy so it is just commonly used for critical cardiac assessments.


2. By Usage

Sprague Rappaport Stethoscope

A Sprague Rappaport stethoscope has separate chest piece tubes for each ear piece. These tubes are held together by a metal clip and connected separately to the head piece. The double-barrel chest piece of this stethoscope is made to produce better sound quality.


Cardiology Stethoscope

Cardiology stethoscopes are designed for cardiac assessments. This type of stethoscope has superb sound quality so distinguishing different heart sounds will be easy. It is available in a single-head or a double-head  chest piece.

The chest piece tubes are usually bi-lumen but it is made into a single tube design so there will be no noise created from two tubes rubbing together.


Pediatric Stethoscope

A pediatric stethoscope is similar with classic stethoscopes except for one feature – the head piece is smaller than standard stethoscopes. The bell part of the head measures one inch in diameter and the diaphragm is specially contoured for pediatric bodies.


Infant Stethoscope

Just like the pediatric stethoscope, the infant stethoscope has small head piece as well. The bell part of the head piece is ¾ inch in diameter. The head piece is lightweight and contoured for ease of use on newborns and babies.


3. Special Types

Hearing-Impaired Stethoscope

Stethoscopes for hearing-impaired individuals are now available. This kind of stethoscope is capable of amplifying sounds without being affected by outside noise. It can be attached to external PDA, earphones or tape recorder.


Electronic Stethoscope

Electronic stethoscopes became popular because of its noise reduction feature. It can also amplify sounds well. It is considered impractical for emergency purposes as it needs to be set and recharged for accurate sound output.



Examining the Stethoscope – What Should You Look For

In examining a stethoscope, you must ensure that the parts are made from high quality materials. Here’s a guide for this:


  • Ear Piece

The ear piece of a stethoscope should feel soft and fits perfectly into the ear canal. It should also be properly angled to ensure crisp sound playback.


  • Chest Piece/Head

The chest piece should be made from stainless steel. Stainless steel is a good conductor of sound and highly durable so air leak will be prevented. Chest piece made from aluminum and zinc alloy are also great but stainless steel tops them for the sound quality amplified.


  • Tube

The tube is responsible for sound transmission and elimination of external noises. It should be made from thick material like polyvinylchloride. It should be crack-resistant and can be conveniently folded without kinking or breaking.


  • Diaphragm

The diaphragm should be made from high quality flexible material like resin and PE compound film. It should be air-sealed to ensure that the amplified sound is clear. If possible, having a non-chill rim within the diaphragm will be helpful especially for pediatric patients.



Top 10 Best Stethoscopes for Nurses

Here’s a list of the top ten best stethoscopes for nurses as recommended by buyers online.


1. 3M Littmann Select Stethoscope

This is one of the most affordable Littmann stethoscopes around. Just like the other specialty Littman stethoscopes in the market, this one has tunable diaphragm that can adjust to low or high frequency sounds. It is lightweight and can amplify sounds well.

Pros: With tunable diaphragm, great sound quality, lightweight, one of the most affordable Littman models.

Cons: Sticky tubing, no extra eartips.

Price: $46.95


2. Prestige Medical All Color Sprague Stethoscope

This traditional Sprague stethoscope has adult and pediatric diaphragm assemblies. It also comes with extra parts like extra eartips, bell parts and diaphragm. It is more affordable compared to other brands of stethoscopes and yet it has great sound output. Its electro-plated finish also looks classic.

Pros: Comfortable earpiece, clear sound output, with interchangeable adult and pediatric diaphragm assemblies, comes with spare parts.

Cons: Heavy to carry.

Price: $14.76


3. MDF® MD One Stainless Steel Premium Dual Head Stethoscope

Made from 100% stainless steel, the MDF® MD’s Premium Dual Head Stethoscope is anatomically angled to 15 degrees to ensure good fitting. Its ComfortSeal® eartips are made for optimum comfort and efficiency. It can reduce outside noise effectively so you can hear lung, bowel or heart sounds more clearly.

Pros: With free-replacement-parts-for-life program, durable dual-leaf spring construction, reduces outside noise, with patented SafetyLock.

Cons: Heavier than other stethoscopes.

Price: $54.90


4. 3M Littmann Master Classic II Stethoscope

The 3M Littmann Master Classic II Stethoscope has been famous for its tunable diaphragm technology. You can tune the diaphragm by just adjusting the pressure applied so you can hear low and high-frequency sounds.

The stethoscope is also free from latex materials to cater nurses with latex allergy. With its non-chill rim and diaphragm, patient’s comfort is primarily considered in this stethoscope’s design.

Pros: With effective acoustic seal, with tunable diaphragm, great sound quality, lightweight.

Cons: A bit more expensive, the tubing is sticky and tends to collect dust, no extra eartips.

Price: $105.95


5. Prestige Clinical I Stethoscope

The chest piece and binaural of this stethoscope are made from stainless steel. Its snap-on rim and diaphragm can amplify crisp sounds efficiently. The thick wall of the tubing comes with alloy sound conductors to enhance sound quality. The extra eartips included are provided in two sizes.

Pros: Made from stainless steel, extra eartips are available in two sizes, with lifetime limited warranty, with snap-on rim and diaphragm.

Cons: Tubing tends to break or crack easily, hard eartips, poor durability.

Price: $28.98


6. ADC Adscope Stethoscope

Aside from its affordable price, this stethoscope has been known for its extra large bell measuring 1 3/8 inch. The diaphragm is also wide which measures 1 ¾ inch in diameter.

The chest piece is made from aluminum making it ultra lightweight. However, conduction of amplified sounds is not as good as in stainless steel chest piece. When bought, the stethoscope comes with extra eartips and a spare diaphragm.

Pros: Lightweight, comes with extra eartip and diaphragm, affordable, internal binaural angled at 15 degrees.

Cons: Picks up external noises, compromised sound quality, aluminum chest piece.

Price: $23.71


7. Graham Field Sprague Rappaport-Type Stethoscope

The Graham Field Sprague Rappaport-Type Stethoscope comes with five interchangeable chestpieces. Its 22-inch tubing is thick enough to reduce extraneous sound. The stethoscope also comes with three extra sets of eartips, two diaphragms and three bells.

Pros: Affordable, latex-free, comes with extra eartips, diaphragms and bells.

Cons: Heavy, uncomfortable eartips that can loosen easily.

Price: $13.49


8. Omron Sprague Rappaport Stethoscope

Omron’s Sprague stethoscope has chrome-plated chestpiece and latex-free tubing. When purchased, it includes two sizes of diaphragms, two sets of eartips and three sizes of open bells.

The extra parts of the stethoscope are kept in a vinyl storage case. Sound quality is considered fair for the price, but just like the other Sprague rappaport stethoscopes, it’s quite bulky and heavy to carry.

Pros: Affordable, latex-free, with extra eartips and different sizes of diaphragms and bells included.

Cons: Heavy, uncomfortable eartips, sound quality altered when interchanging diaphragms or bells frequently.

Price: $17.26


9. Prestige Dual-head Stethoscope

One of the most affordable stethoscopes around, Prestige’s dual-head stethoscope is a good starter stethoscope for new nurses. It’s affordable and very light but it can amplify internal sounds decently. The chestpiece is made from aluminum and the surrounding ring is non-chill. The brass binaurals are also chrome-plated.

Pros: Affordable, with extra eartips included, lightweight.

Cons: Chestpiece made from aluminum, uncomfortable eartips, amplified lung and bowel sounds are muffled.

Price: $9.39


10. Primacare Classic Series Adult Dual Head Stethoscope

Measuring 30 inches in length, this stethoscope is just convenient for clinical use. It has extra eartips included as well as a spare diaphragm.

With its cheap price, this stethoscope is ideal for blood pressure monitoring and general auscultation. The chestpiece and adjustable binaurals are chrome-plated to make it lightweight.

Pros: Affordable, with extra eartips included, lightweight, 30 inches in length, latex-free tubing, great for general auscultation.

Cons: Chestpiece and binaurals are chrome-plated only, low durability.

Price: $7.20


How to Choose the Best Stethoscopes – 10 Golden Rules for Nurses

Choosing the best stethoscope for your needs is easy as long as you know the guide in selecting one. Consider the following pointers in buying your own stethoscope:


Rule # 1: Check Your Budget.

It is true – quality stethoscopes are expensive so you should consider your budget first. It will be great to opt for the expensive one if its quality meets your expectations. Most nurses use one stethoscope for their entire nursing career because of its durability so you should be wise in choosing one.


Rule # 2: Consider Your Area or Department.

Considering the area or department where you are working is also important when choosing the best stethoscope for your needs.

If you are working in the Cardiology Department, then the cardiology stethoscope will be great for you. If you are in a pediatric ward, getting a pediatric stethoscope will be best. Specialized stethoscopes offer unique functions that are specifically useful for the designated area it was made for.


Rule # 3: Check The Requirements In Your Institution.

Nursing students are usually required to have a single tube stethoscope with bell and diaphragm. It should also have no attached electronics. Consult your hospital to find out about the stethoscope requirements for staff nurses in your area.


Rule # 4: Look for Quality Brands.

The popular brands of stethoscope known for their quality are 3M™ Littmann®, Adscope®, Welch Allyn and Prestige. When choosing one, try each stethoscope you prefer to determine the product you’re most comfortable with. Check if there is no defect and if everything is attached well.


Rule # 5: Decide The Type Of Stethoscope You’re Comfortable Working With.

Do you prefer a single-head, dual-head or triple-head stethoscope? Do you want a sprague rappaport or a cardiology stethoscope for crispier and more detailed sound quality? You should choose the type of stethoscope you are comfortable working with as a lot of your assessments will depend on it.


Rule #6: Consider The Weight of Your Desired Stethoscope.

If you will be moving a lot around your unit, it will not be convenient to carry a heavy stethoscope in your neck or pocket. This is the reason why you should consider the stethoscope’s weight when getting one. Usually, a stethoscope designed to amplify even the lightest heart murmur is heavier because of its thick-walled tubing.


Rule # 7: Inspect The Stethoscope’s Parts.

When buying stethoscopes, you should take time in inspecting the parts. The eartips should be soft and well-sealed when fitted. Binaurals and chestpiece made from stainless steel are considered the best option for sound conductibility. The tubing should be thick with no holes or punctures.


Rule # 8: Check If The Stethoscope’s Parts Are Replaceable.

Some stethoscopes automatically have spare parts included like eartips, diaphragms and bells. For some brands, you will need to order separate parts in case you need a replacement. The most commonly replaced part of a stethoscope is the eartips and it will be great to have plenty of spare eartips available on hand.


Rule # 9: Consider Your Working Environment.

If there is a high incidence of missing stethoscopes in your area, you should first try to get a cheap to moderately priced ones. ER nurses and other nurses working outside the hospital setting usually misplace or lose their stethoscopes. This is the reason why it might not be wise to invest on high-end stethoscopes in this case. There are plenty of stethoscopes with great sound quality without the hefty price tag–you just need to look for one.


Rule # 10: Ask For Recommendations From Your Colleagues.

Because of the years of experience senior nurses have in the clinical field, you can benefit from asking them about the best type of stethoscope for nursing practice. Ask about the most effective and convenient stethoscopes to use in your assigned area as well as the brands or types of stethoscopes to avoid.



Additional Tips and Warnings:

The longer the stethoscope’s tubing is, the less sensitive the amplified sound could be. A long stethoscope is convenient to use, but always remember to check for the sound quality if it’s sensitive enough for assessments.


Stethoscopes with latex tubing are prone to cracks when left in a warm place for a long time. If you frequently hang your stethoscope around your neck, the tubing could easily crack as well, especially when it is often in contact with skin. There are very few brands of stethoscopes that offer spare tubing so you should take care of it well.


During the opening of school year, some discounts are offered online for students getting their first stethoscopes. It is great to consider these discounts especially if you are planning to purchase an expensive one.


Also Read: Best Shoes for Nurses – An Ultimate Guide

About the Author: Je Abarra is a nurse by profession and a freelance writer by passion. She is working as a staff nurse in the pediatric ward of a private city hospital for more than two years. During her free time, she usually writes about her fascinations in health and nursing. She loves to provide tips and fun facts about nursing and healthy living.