The Stethoscope Buyer’s Guide


Get the best stethoscope you can afford.

Note: if you are interested in learning about how stethoscopes work, visit Tools of the Trade: the Stethoscope and How to Use it.

The stethoscope is the one piece of equipment you definitely need.  What follows are our favorites.     NOTE: we have no affiliation with 3M/Littman – we just like their lifetime warranty, and prefer them (hands down) over other brands.


3M Littmann Stethoscope Cardiology III, 27 Black

3M Littman Cardiology III

For Adult Patients:

Ask around and it will be clear that the Littman Cardiology III is the standard by which other stethoscopes are measured.  You can pay less and get much less.  You can pay more to get gold plating or digital recording features (quality digital scopes are much more expensive), but we’ve never seen the point.  For our money, the Cardiology III delivers the highest quality for the right price.  There is a 24-inch version, but we prefer the 27-inch tubing, as it hangs more comfortably around the neck.  Don’t worry; modern materials and design have eliminated any noticeable difference in sound quality or volume of the longer tube.  In fact, there some evidence that a slightly longer tube may provide a broader sound spectrum.  If you want an excellent stethoscope that will last you for years (Littman scopes come with a lifetime warranty) this is the one.

On a Budget?

3M Littmann Master Classic II Stethoscope, 27 Black Edition with Black Plated Chestpiece

3M Littman Master Classic II

If you’re on a tighter budget, or you’re in the market for a more basic scope, the Littman Master Classic is a solid choice.  This one is intended for the generalist, or the emergency responder.  You’ll notice that its chest piece is single-sided, so there is no “bell” feature for listening to lower tones, but many clinicians don’t find a bell an absolute necessity.  It is also possible to simulate a bell by using light pressure when auscultating.  Again, we prefer the longer 27-inch tube over the 24-inch for comfort.  Finally, the all black finish has a serious look, and is uncommon enough to avoid your steth being accidentally taken home by someone else (an occasional problem with the ubiquitous Littman Cardiology III).


For pediatric patients:

3M Littmann Stethoscope Classic II S.E. Pediatric, 28 Caribbean Blue

3M Littman Classic II S.E. Pediatric

If you work in a primary care setting and see an occasional child, you can get away with an adult scope by using the bell with a little less pressure, but if you work in pediatrics, you’ll definitely want a pediatric stethoscope.  The Littman Classic II S.E. Pediatric is a good choice, and features soft diaphragm and bell covers, so you won’t have to warm it up before placing it on the kiddies.  The heads are sized and contoured to fit infants and children, giving you better contact and clearer sound.  If you’re working with kids, consider another color, just for fun – black is so stodgy and grownup!  The one pictured here is “Caribbean Blue.”

  • apples November 20, 2011, 9:25 am

    How about ADC stethoscopes?? They are good, last forever and don’t cost as much.

    • Paul November 20, 2011, 9:35 am

      There are many good brands. We like Littman for its established track record of performance and durable construction. You pay a little more, but we believe it’s worth it. I own a electronic ADC, and I’ll be coming out with a video review of it soon. Stay tuned.

  • Anna January 13, 2012, 5:54 am

    Littmann is the best stethoscope I’ve ever used. I live in Russia and our medical market offers only shethoscopes made in Singapore or Taiwan – Little Doctor TM. It’s like joke on doctors to sell devices with such name. Quality is awful! When I came to US, the first thing I did – I bought Littmann steth.

  • DeerPark July 30, 2012, 11:29 am

    What’s your opinion on the stethoscope with 2 tubes coming from the diaphragm as opposed to one? I’ll admit that I think the ones with 2 tubes look cooler :p

    • Paul July 30, 2012, 10:33 pm

      Those are generally less expensive, but in terms of sound transmission, they are adequate. The better stethoscopes ($) appear to have one tube, but inside, it’s actually two, known as a “dual channel.” The idea is that more cross sectional surface area provides more movement of air, which makes faint sounds louder.

      The type I advise against getting is the one with one tube that actually is one tube. These tend to be the ones in the $10-20 range.

  • Luciana August 1, 2012, 11:12 am

    Is the ADC Adscope 601 Cardiology a good one? Is it close to the Littmann Cardiology III in good quality? I need a good one for both adults and children for lung sounds. Thanks in advance!

  • Tanin August 29, 2012, 12:16 am

    What about master cardiology from littmann ?? Any experience in them ? Does “Tunable Diaphragm” is actually working ?

    • Paul August 29, 2012, 9:43 pm

      The Master Cardiology is an excellent scope. It’s a little costly for the new health care employee, but if you can afford it, you won’t regret it.

  • grace September 14, 2012, 7:04 am

    how about the Littman Lightweight II SE. i am looking for a stethoscope for my medical training.

    • Paul September 15, 2012, 7:45 am

      That’s a good quality stethoscope for basic use, such as taking blood pressures, etc. If you are planning to become a PA or nurse practitioner, you’ll want a more durable, higher end one – you’ll be using it a lot so it will need to be more durable.

  • Cindy September 18, 2012, 9:17 am

    My husband has an established private practice as a D.O. and has been practicing medicine for over 30 years. For his birthday he had requested a new stethoscope. I know practically zilch about stethoscopes and need some help. He did mention that he wants a good one to hear many different types of sounds. Can you suggest a high quality one? Money is not a huge concern for the gift. He works so much I just want him to have an extra nice one. Also, any recommendation as to where to purchase? Thank you!!!

    • Paul September 18, 2012, 8:23 pm

      One that would fill the bill (and can’t really go wrong with) is the Littman Master Cardiology. It’s an excellent piece of equipment – durable, comfortable to use (the chest piece fits easily between the index and middle finger and comes with a nice warranty. The 27″ version wears more easily around the neck than the 22″ and has equivalent sound quality. There are many companies such as that sell them for a similar price. You might check with ebay as long as the scope is new in its original packaging. There are several colors you can order, and they generally come with different ear tips you can switch out.

  • Charles November 14, 2012, 1:03 pm

    I agree that the Littmann Cardi iii is the best for adults- it is also best for pediatrics. The acoustics are the best . The only comparable one is the Master Cardiology.

  • Kirk Bauer November 21, 2012, 8:51 pm

    so confuse! what about the WELCH ALLYN Harvey Elite, I read good and bad about all of them. I have a Elite and have had very good success. How do they compare to Cardio III ?

    • Paul November 22, 2012, 11:37 am

      Don’t be confused. Don’t freak out. The Elite is a good scope. Significantly more expensive, but I don’t think you’ll go wrong with either of them. You might also check the warranty for it. Cardio III’s come with a lifetime warranty, and that’s tough to beat.

  • John December 28, 2012, 3:18 am

    Can I please get your opinion on MDF? Do you think it’s good for manual blood pressure reading on a cardiac floor? Thanks!

    • Paul December 28, 2012, 11:07 pm

      Yes, MDF provides solid sphygmomanometers. I tend to think that a bigger factor is how you use a cuff. There are actually many tips/requirements about how to take a blood pressure reading accurately using a BP cuff, such as having the patient sit quietly for at least 5 mins before, hands at chest height, feet flat on the floor, not taking multiple consecutive readings, etc. Most of these are either unknown to practitioners, or are ignored.
      But yes, MDF should be fine.

  • Sam August 20, 2014, 2:56 pm

    I’m in an ASN-RN program. Will the Littmann Classic II S.E. fit my needs throughout school and after?

    • Paul August 29, 2014, 5:15 pm

      Yes, that should be a fine stethoscope for your needs (and most needs).


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