Last updated: August 11, 2021

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Welcome to our big stethoscope test 2021. Here we present all the stethoscopes we have tested in detail. We have compiled detailed background information and added a summary of customer reviews on the internet. We would like to make your purchase decision easier and help you find the best stethoscope for you.

You will also find answers to frequently asked questions in our guide. If available, we also offer interesting test videos. Furthermore, you will also find some important information on this page that you should definitely pay attention to if you want to buy a stethoscope.




The most important facts

  • A stethoscope is an examination instrument that transmits sound and thus makes it audible. It is mainly used in a medical context, e.g. for listening to the heart, lungs or intestines.
  • Stethoscopes can be divided into classical, acoustic stethoscopes and electronic stethoscopes. Electronic stethoscopes are quite expensive, but they can amplify and record sound and convert it into digital data.
  • The decision for a particular stethoscope depends on individual wishes and areas of application. Purchase criteria such as the stethoscope type, material quality, chestpiece, diaphragm and tubing system play an important role in this decision.

The Best Stethoscope: Our Picks

Guide: Questions you should ask yourself before buying a stethoscope

What is a stethoscope and how is it constructed?

A stethoscope is an examination instrument that transmits sound and makes it audible.

A stethoscope transmits sound so that it can be made audible. (Image source: unsplash.com / Hush Naidoo)

Stethoscopes are mostly used in a medical context to listen to body sounds (auscultation) in order to draw conclusions about organs. In particular, organs such as the heart, lungs or intestines are listened to.

The word stethoscope comes from the Greek. It is derived from the combination of stethos (chest) and skopein (to look at).

How is a stethoscope constructed and how does it work?

A stethoscope is constructed by the following components:
component Function
chest piece Also called a stethoscope head. Is placed on the part of the body to be listened to. Can be single or double-sided (double head).
Diaphragm/funnel The diaphragm or funnel is located on the chestpiece. A diaphragm is mainly used for high frequencies and a funnel for lower frequencies. For listening to children, this diaphragm or funnel should be smaller.
Tube Can be single or double lumen. Single lumen means it is a tube that splits to both ears. Two-lumen means that a separate tube goes to one ear at a time. The sound is conducted through the tube.
Earhook and ear olives The earhook directs the sound to the ear. The ear tips seal off escaping sound waves and noise.

The diaphragm or funnel picks up the vibrations at the chestpiece. These are transmitted through the air column in the tube. The vibrations reach the ear via the earpiece and the olives, where they also cause the eardrum to vibrate. These are then converted into sounds by the brain. In this way, bodily sounds can be heard through the stethoscope.

When is a stethoscope used?

Stethoscopes are mainly used in a clinical context as a diagnostic measure. Various organs can be listened to and important diagnostic findings can be recorded. Stethoscopes are mainly used for the following examinations:
Body part sounds
Chest organs (heart, lungs) heart sounds, heart tones, breathing sounds, breath sounds (e.g. rattling sounds)
Abdomen intestinal sounds, infant heart sounds in pregnant women
Vessels vessel sounds, arteria carotis

In line with the use of stethoscopes in a clinical context, we have selected a video for you. This is a video podcast from SWR2 on the topic "The stethoscope - eavesdropping on the heart".

How do you listen in with a stethoscope?

Three examples of eavesdropping with a stethoscope are described here. However, you should note that a doctor should always be consulted in the event of unusual noises or suspected illness.
Organ to be listened to Brief instructions
Heart Place the diaphragm on the chest. Listen for about one minute. When breathing is relaxed and normal, typical Lapp-Dapp sounds (systolic and diastolic sounds) should be audible.
Lungs Upper and lower lobes of the lungs (chest and back) should be examined. A clear sound is normal here. A whistling, humming, stridor or rattling sound is not normal and should be investigated further. If you don't hear anything, it means there is air or fluid around the lungs, a thickened chest wall or an over-expanded lung.
Abdomen Listen above and below the belly button. Normal noises sound like a growling stomach. Any other sounds should be investigated further by a doctor.

For whom are stethoscopes useful?

Stethoscopes are particularly useful in a medical context. Accordingly, for doctors of all kinds, such as cardiology or paediatrics. But stethoscopes are also used in veterinary medicine. In addition, stethoscopes are also frequently used for health monitoring in the private sector.

For private use, acoustic stethoscopes are more than sufficient, for example, to listen superficially to the heart or lungs. With a little practice, private use is also quite feasible. Finally, carnival is also a common reason for buying a stethoscope.

The type of medical application determines the type of stethoscope and its quality.

For example, especially in cardiology, special high-quality stethoscopes should be used. When dealing with children, attention should be paid to small chest pieces. But stethoscopes are also used in industry.

What does a stethoscope cost?

The price of a stethoscope depends on the quality, type and features of the stethoscope.
Type Price
Simple entry-level model 7-20€
High-quality, acoustic stethoscope 30-90€
Electronic stethoscope 100-800€

What are the alternatives to stethoscopes?

Imaging procedures (X-rays) are a certain alternative to stethoscopes. They make organs or the inside of the human body visible. However, these procedures are very complex and cost-intensive. Listening with a stethoscope is an important diagnostic measure because of its ease of use and the possibility to "listen in".

At this point, the Pinard tube can be mentioned as a supposed alternative to the classic stethoscope. This is a wooden ear trumpet, which is usually only used in obstetrics.

Stethoskop

A stethoscope is easy to handle and is also not a bad thing to have in the first aid kit at home. (Image source: foodandmore / 123rf.com)

Decision: What types of stethoscopes are there and which one is right for you?

Stethoscopes can be roughly divided into two categories, which can then be further differentiated based on certain features. Accordingly, there are:

  • Acoustic stethoscopes
  • Electronic stethoscopes

The decision for one type of these stethoscopes depends on one's own needs and the desired application. Acoustic stethoscopes represent the classic, mechanical variant.

They are widely used because they are easy to handle. In the following, we will describe the two categories in more detail. We will explain the advantages and disadvantages, which may help you in your decision.

What distinguishes acoustic stethoscopes and what are their advantages and disadvantages?

Acoustic stethoscopes are the classic, mechanical and probably best-known form of stethoscope. They rely on a simple physical phenomenon. A diaphragm on the chestpiece picks up vibrations, which are transmitted through a column of air in the tube and end up in the ears via the earpiece and the olives. The olives seal and are supposed to protect against disturbing noises.

A precise and clear filtering of body noises takes place. The chestpieces of acoustic stethoscopes can be equipped with either a funnel or a diaphragm. However, there are also double-headed chestpieces, which have a funnel side and a diaphragm side. Funnels are mainly used for lower frequencies.

Diaphragm sides are mainly used for higher frequency ranges. The quality of acoustic stethoscopes is very variable, which is also reflected in very different prices. What is important above all is a well-made head, a thick-walled tube and soft olives made of silicone, for example.

Advantages
  • Reliable
  • Relatively inexpensive
  • Can be used at any time (does not need batteries or similar)
Disadvantages
  • Quality variable
  • No recorded data for later analysis

What are the characteristics of electronic stethoscopes and what are their advantages and disadvantages?

Electronic stethoscopes, as the name suggests, work with electrical signals. Here, the vibrations are also generated by membranes, but then converted into electrical signals. Microprocessors and algorithms can amplify sound up to 24 times and filter out noise. In addition, sounds can be converted directly into digital formats so that they can be visualised immediately on a smartphone, for example.

However, the compressed data can also be transmitted directly to a computer or headphones via Bluetooth. However, it is also important to mention that these electronic stethoscopes require mandatory batteries, which is why they are completely useless without them.

Advantages
  • Digital data
  • Less noise
  • Visualisations
  • Amplification possible
Disadvantages
  • Batteries necessary
  • High acquisition costs

Buying criteria: Use these factors to compare and evaluate stethoscopes

In the following, we would like to show you which criteria you can use to compare and evaluate stethoscopes. This will give you a good overview and help you decide on a suitable product.

First of all, it should be mentioned that stethoscopes are available in many different colours. This ensures individuality in everyday clinical use and less risk of confusion. In summary, the important purchase criteria are as follows:

  • Stethoscope type
  • Material quality
  • Chestpiece
  • Tube system
  • Diaphragm
  • Additional parts

In the following, you can read what exactly is hidden behind these criteria and what role they should play in the decision.

Stethoscope type

This criterion should be adapted to the area of application. You can choose between acoustic and electronic stethoscopes. For private use, acoustic stethoscopes are perfectly adequate. However, high-quality acoustic stethoscopes are usually more common for medical use.

Electronic stethoscopes require batteries and have a very high price. However, for medical use, electronic stethoscopes are particularly valuable for amplifying sounds, having digital data or creating visualisations.

Ambient and friction noises are minimised and other people, such as students or colleagues, can easily listen in on electronic stethoscopes.

Material quality

Material quality is a very important purchase criterion. Especially in the medical field and cardiology, attention should be paid to excellent quality. The chest-piece should ideally be made of stainless steel and allow easy disinfection.

In addition, the diaphragm and the chestpiece should be well connected, as this influences the hearing quality. Chest pieces made of aluminium are usually of the poorest quality.

Chestpiece

Chestpieces can be double-sided or single-sided and should be robust in both cases. With double-sided chestpieces, you have the choice between a funnel side and a diaphragm side. The membrane side is used to hear higher frequencies and the funnel side is used to hear lower frequencies.

In cardiology, a single-sided chestpiece with a diaphragm is usually used. For listening to the lungs, a funnel is usually used. All in all, double-headed chestpieces are more common.

Tube system

The tubing system as a purchase criterion is mostly a matter of taste. There are single-lumen and double-lumen tube systems. Single lumen systems split and one end goes to each ear. More common are separate tubes starting at the chest piece, each leading to one ear - i.e. double tube systems.

However, these are usually more expensive and better acoustics are assumed, although this is not proven. With both variants, the tube should be soft and flexible.

The tubing of a stethoscope should be soft and flexible (Image source: unsplash.com / Marcelo Leal)

Regarding tube length, you can remember that a short tube means less sound loss. However, the standard length of stethoscope tubing does not make a difference to the human ear. The standard length of stethoscope tubing is 65-70 cm and should at least be long enough to allow you to listen without bending over.

Diaphragm

The diaphragm picks up the vibrations and then transmits them. With diaphragms, you should pay particular attention to flexibility and reliability so that they do not deform.

There are also tunable diaphragms that can be controlled by the pressure. Low frequencies can be heard better with a lower pressure and high frequencies with a higher pressure.

Additional parts

As a final purchase criterion, you can pay attention to the additional parts offered. These may include replacement diaphragms or additional ear olives. Furthermore, some sellers also offer name tags or engravings, which minimises the risk of confusion.

Facts worth knowing about the stethoscope

Who invented the stethoscope and when?

The stethoscope was invented in 1816 by the French physician René T.H. Laenec. He was working in a hospital in Paris at the time and had a patient with heart disease. Because of his patient's age and sex, he did not want to place his ear on the part of the body in question, as was customary at the time.

To get around this, he made use of a well-known acoustic phenomenon and improvised a tube made of paper. This enabled him to hear his patient's heartbeat clearly and distinctly, despite the distance. Stethoscopes made of wood followed. At the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century, this was further developed by the discovery of acoustic membranes.

When can heart sounds of an unborn baby be heard with a stethoscope?

Heart sounds of an unborn baby can be heard with a stethoscope from the 26th week of pregnancy. Listening to heart sounds is completely risk-free.

What do I need to know about the hygiene of a stethoscope?

Regular disinfection of the stethoscope is particularly important. Germs on stethoscopes due to lack of cleaning are widespread and are mainly located on the diaphragm and tubes. The stethoscope should be cleaned after each patient contact with, for example, a 70% alcohol solution.

However, stethoscopes should not be completely immersed and should also be protected from heat, cold, solvents and oils. When cleaning, you should also follow the manufacturer's instructions. Regarding the cleaning of your stethoscope, we have selected an interesting video for you.

In it, a student develops a possible solution to the germ problem of stethoscopes.

Can hearing-impaired people use stethoscopes?

Conventional, acoustic stethoscopes are usually difficult for hearing-impaired people. The ear olives get in the way with hearing aids or the sounds through acoustic stethoscopes are too quiet for people with hearing problems. However, electronic stethoscopes can be used super by hearing impaired people.

They can be connected to BTE/ITE devices, cochlear/middle ear implants, headphones and active speakers.

Are there special stethoscopes for babies and children?

Yes, there are special stethoscopes for children and babies. These are adapted to the anatomical conditions of children and have a small diaphragm side. There are also special baby stethoscopes which are even smaller and can therefore be used for babies and premature babies.

What is a Rappaport stethoscope?

A Rappaport stethoscope is a special type of acoustic stethoscope. This has a short double tube and a double-sided chest piece, allowing diaphragm and funnel attachments. This type is suitable for both adults and children.

Are there stethoscopes for machines?

Yes, stethoscopes can also be used for amplifying quiet sounds in machines. This usually involves detecting noises and acoustic irregularities in fans, pistons and pumps. Here, too, both acoustic and electronic stethoscopes are used. These are mainly used in research, development, inspection and maintenance work.

In the industrial sector, however, special stethoscopes are usually used for machines. These have special measuring tips (inaccessible places) or other attachments (additional determination of the speed or optical inspection).

Image source: unsplash.com / Hush Naidoo

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