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Best Stethoscope For Practical Usage

Updated on October 23, 2012

Stethoscopes have come a long, long way since their invention in 1816. Unfortunately, some of the brands / styles available kind of make you feel like you’re still living in the 19th century. In other words, some of them are total crap and have no business being used by anyone.Why? Because they often prevent accurate auscultation – and that’s the whole point, isn’t it? It’s always amazed me, the way so many nurses will actually go for the pretty colors, as opposed to the stethoscope that will actually get you an accurate BP, or accurately detect an S3 or S4. The only way a crap stethoscope is going to manage that, is if you have supersonic ears, or if the sounds are so obvious a deaf man could hear them. Note: There are specialized stethoscopes available for cardiology, pediatrics, etc – but this article only deals with the basic versions. If you'd like something more specific, have a look at the link above.

The Best

Littmann Classic II SE Stethoscope

This is pretty much the stethoscope you’re most likely to see on the average hospital employee required to have one. It’s also the most frequently shown on television shows like ER, House M.D., etc. This is because they’re excellent, affordable, and durable. And in comparison to the cheapies, you can sometimes hear a good 20 mm/Hg better. That’s actually quite a bit, and can make the difference between someone being diagnosed with hypertension or not. And if you can hear that much better, that means you have a much better chance at detecting murmurs, etc.

Welch-Allyn Tycos Double Head Stethoscope

This is the one I have. It’s just as good as the Littmann, but is less commonly used, so I’ve listed it second. They really are just about equal, apart from a few dollars difference in price. Personally, I find the earpieces more comfortable in the Welch Allyn, but that’s a matter of opinion. That said, it’s something you will eventually care about if you’re constantly having to put them in and out of your ears. Excellent auscultation; I wouldn’t trade mine for anything.

The Worst

The Sprague

For God’s sake, don’t use one of these. You could get better results sticking a glass against someone’s chest and having a listen. And for taking a BP, forget about it. I can’t tell you how many diastolic readings I’ve had to correct when working with nurses who refused to pay more than 20 bucks for a stethoscope. And I know these chicks are buying them just because they come in pretty colors, cos they always have the fuschia or purple ones. It’s a job, not a fashion show, ladies! Get rid of your damned Spragues and get something that works – there’s a reason you never see physicians using these, apart from on badly researched television shows! Besides, the Littmanns come in most of those colors now, anyway!

The Generic Piece of Crap

Every hospital or clinic has a few of these laying around. If you can believe it, they’re even worse than the spragues. You can spot them pretty easily, as they have very hard earpieces that'll rub your canal raw, and they also suck at auscultation. Honestly, you could get better results by guessing. The bell usually looks like it’s made from aluminum, and everything else is equally crap quality. Never trust the results of these. Like I said, these are the most commonly seen in the average health care environment. You can certainly buy something more expensive and better quality than those listed here – but unless you work in cardiology or another specialty, it’s unlikely you'd need to. They’re affordable and they last forever if you take care of them.


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