Ultimate Guide to Different Types of Stethoscopes

Ultimate Guide to Different Types of Stethoscopes

Steven Cumper

Steven Cumper

Published in MedShop Blog

0 min read

January 9, 2024

The stethoscope is arguably the most iconic piece of medical equipment ever invented. A symbol of the profession, the stethoscope is used by doctors, nurses and support staff in hospitals and clinics in every corner of the world.

Take a look at our ultimate guide to stethoscopes to find the perfect device for your needs.


What Does a A Stethoscope Do? 

A stethoscope, a pivotal tool in modern medicine, has revolutionized the way doctors diagnose and monitor internal bodily functions. This instrument has a long and significant history, with its use dating back to ancient times when physicians would listen to their patients' chests to assess their heart, lungs, and other organs.

The evolution of the stethoscope began in earnest in the early 19th century, marking a significant advancement in medical diagnostics. The creation of the first stethoscope is attributed to the French physician, Dr. Rene Laennec, in 1816. Faced with the need to examine a patient's chest, Laennec ingeniously rolled a piece of paper into a tube, placing one end against the patient and the other to his ear. 
Laennec was amazed at the difference this made to the acoustics, and the stethoscope was born.

A quarter of a century later, American George P. Camman developed a design that featured two earpieces, further enhancing the usability of the medical device. This basic model was used by medical professionals for over a century until 1960 when Dr. David Littmann significantly improved the design, giving doctors a tool they could really rely on in the process.

In Australia, the stethoscope remains an essential tool in medical practice. A 2020 survey by the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners found that 98% of Australian GPs use a stethoscope daily, highlighting its integral role in patient care (RACGP, 2020). These statistics underscore the stethoscope's enduring importance in the medical field, a testament to its evolution and the ingenuity of those who have contributed to its development.

What Do the Chest Pieces and Ear Pieces Do?

Today, virtually all stethoscopes are made up of two ear tips (also known as the headset) connected to a chest piece by a central tube. In most models, two ear tubes will split off from the main single tube to allow doctors to listen to chest sounds easily and comfortably.

The ear pieces are there to receive the sounds transmitted from the chest piece, via the stethoscope tubing, to the upper part of the device. Ear pieces should fit comfortably in the user’s ear canal and relay sound accurately and clearly. Ear pieces are also used to help cut out ambient noise that could otherwise interfere with the examination.

The chest piece is placed directly on the patient’s skin and is used to amplify the sounds of the internal organs. It’s this amplification that allows medical professionals to hear the various high and low-frequency sounds made by the heart, lungs, bowels and other organs.

The chest piece is generally made of stainless steel and has two sides. The smaller, more rounded side is commonly known as the bell, while the larger, flatter side is called the diaphragm.


Exploring your Stethoscope – Different Components and their Functionalities




Contains the diaphragm (for high-frequency sounds) and bell (for low-frequency sounds). Can be rotated to switch between diaphragm and bell.


Flat, circular side of the chestpiece. Sensitive to high-frequency sounds like heart murmurs and lung sounds. Should be applied firmly for best results.


Smaller, concave side of the chestpiece. Sensitive to low-frequency sounds like heart sounds. Applied lightly for best results.


Flexible rubber tubing connecting the chestpiece to the earpieces. Transmits sound from the chestpiece to the ear tips.

Ear Tubes

Two metal or plastic tubes that transmit sound from the tubing to the earpieces.


Two small, usually rubber or plastic, components that fit into the ears. Designed to form a seal for effective sound transmission.


Y-shaped metal or plastic pieces that connect the ear tubes to the earpieces. Adjustable for a comfortable fit.


The combination of binaurals and earpieces that allows the user to wear the stethoscope around their neck and position it comfortably in their ears.

Tubing Length

Varies in length (typically 18-28 inches) depending on the type and brand of stethoscope. Longer tubing can provide greater flexibility in examining patients.

Extra Features

Some stethoscopes may have additional features like tuneable diaphragms, noise-reducing technology, or specialised coatings for improved sound quality.

What Is a Diaphragm?

The diaphragm is an integral element of the modern stethoscope. Generally used to detect high-frequency sounds, the diaphragm is the larger, flatter side of the chest piece. Most high quality stethoscopes allow the user to tune the diaphragm for maximum acoustic performance.


What Are the Advantages of a Stethoscope?

The stethoscope stands as a quintessential tool in healthcare, offering medical professionals an invaluable means to assess a patient's internal health. Its practicality is evident in various clinical scenarios. For instance, in a busy hospital setting, a cardiologist might use a stethoscope to detect subtle heart murmurs, indicative of underlying cardiac conditions, in numerous patients daily. Similarly, in a general practitioner's office, the stethoscope plays a crucial role in routine check-ups, enabling the doctor to listen to a patient's lungs and identify signs of respiratory issues, such as bronchitis or pneumonia.

One of the most significant benefits of the stethoscope is its non-invasive nature. For example, a pediatrician can easily use it to listen to a child's heartbeat or breathing without causing any discomfort, making it an ideal tool for examining young patients who might be anxious or fearful of medical procedures. 

Moreover, the stethoscope's affordability and durability make it an economical choice for healthcare facilities. A high-quality stethoscope, once purchased, can last for many years, even decades. An example of this longevity can be seen in rural clinics, where resources might be limited. Here, a single stethoscope can be used to examine thousands of patients over several years, offering a consistent and reliable means of diagnosis without the need for frequent replacement.

In terms of cost-effectiveness, the stethoscope proves its worth not just in high-volume urban hospitals but also in remote medical camps. For instance, in outreach programs in rural Australia, medical volunteers often rely on stethoscopes to conduct primary health assessments for numerous patients who might not have regular access to healthcare facilities. This demonstrates the stethoscope's versatility and enduring utility in a wide range of medical settings. 

How Many Types of Stethoscopes Are There?

Over the years, manufacturers have created a number of specialist designs to help doctors get the most from their devices. There are now a number of different types of stethoscopes to choose from. Some of the most popular are:


The 3M Littmann Classic III stethoscope is a fantastic choice for medical professionals looking for a reliable, all-round device. Made from high quality materials and built to the latest specifications, the stethoscope offers excellent sound quality, a tunable diaphragm, next generation tubing and a 5-year warranty.


Designed specifically for cardiologists, cardiology stethoscopes amplify heart sounds and cut out ambient noise, allowing specialist doctors to properly assess their patients.

If you’re looking for a reliable cardiology stethoscope, the 3M Littmann Cardiology IV stethoscope is a good choice. Like all previous models in the Littmann Cardiology range, the Cardiology IV stethoscope is made from durable, high quality materials and is designed to outperform the competition.


Using specialist pediatric stethoscopes makes it easier for doctors to accurately examine paediatric patients. Designed for use on smaller bodies, these stethoscopes allow paediatricians to listen to the heart, lungs and bowels and accurately monitor their patients. Doctors treating babies and very young children can also use infant stethoscopes to examine their patients.


Invest in a Digital stethoscope and you’ll benefit from the latest in medical tech as well as Littmann’s legendary build quality. The 3M Littmann CORE Digital stethoscope offers up to 40x amplification, active noise cancellation and Bluetooth connectivity. Compatible with both iOS and Android devices, these electronic stethoscopes allow you to move easily between analogue and amplified listening modes.


Doctors have to learn the process of auscultation before they can begin assessing patients on their own. Teaching stethoscopes have two headsets to allow students and teachers to listen to heart and lung sounds simultaneously. This makes it easier for teachers to instruct their students and ensures pupils know exactly what they’re listening to.


High quality acoustic stethoscopes are used to examine patients in clinics and on hospital wards. While lightweight stethoscopes are often used by paramedics, nurses and other medical professionals who need to make more general assessments quickly and efficiently. In fact, these lightweight nursing stethoscopes are the ideal piece of kit of busy days on the ward.


Specifically designed for use on animals, veterinary stethoscopes often have longer tubes to allow the vet to reach the stomachs and chests of larger creatures.


What Is the Difference Between a Pediatric and an Adult Stethoscope?

Pediatric stethoscopes generally have smaller chest pieces than adult versions. For example, pediatric Llittmann stethoscopes have specially designed bells and diaphragms to improve acoustics and amplify the sounds of a child’s chest.  


What Are the Advantages of a Bell-Shaped Chest Piece?

If you invest in a dual head stethoscope, you’re likely to have a diaphragm on one side of the chest piece and a bell on the other. The bell is most effective at transmitting low frequency sound waves. Although some diaphragms can be tuned to improve acoustics at low frequencies, many doctors still prefer to use the bell side of their stethoscope for maximum accuracy.

How Do I Know Which Stethoscope to Buy?

If you’re just starting out on your medical journey, it’s probably a good idea to invest in an all-round stethoscope like the Littmann Classic. If you’re looking for a more affordable option, the Spirit Classic is another great choice.


What Is the Difference Between a Stethoscope and a Littmann?

The basic stethoscope design was significantly improved by Dr. Littmann in the 1960s. Because the changes he made were so influential, his name has become synonymous with the stethoscope in many people’s minds. Today, 3M Littmann still produces some of the best stethoscope designs around.

What Kind of Stethoscope Do Doctors Use?

Most doctors will use a good quality double or single head stethoscope when examining their patients. Stethoscopes with tunable diaphragms, advanced lumen tubing and soft-sealing ear tips are popular with physicians as they improve both comfort and usability.

What Is the Best Stethoscope to Buy?

The best stethoscope for your needs will depend on your speciality and your budget. In general, it’s always best to get the highest quality device you can afford. Well-made stethoscopes should last for years, so investing in a durable model now could well save you money in the long run - not to mention make diagnoses and assessments easier and more accurate.

To find out more about the stethoscopes, how to clean your stethoscope properly, and the different models and accessories available, explore our collection of high quality medical devices today.


Author: Steven John Cumper, B.App.SC. (Osteo.), M.Ost., is a businessman with a strong foundation in biomedical science and osteopathic medicine, who founded and led Medshop to international success, culminating in its acquisition by the Bunzl Group in September 2021, where he continues to serve as Managing Director (Medshop Group).

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