As a healthcare student, chances are you’ve heard the name Littmann. Considered one of the best manufacturers of stethoscopes out there, it’s a name that doesn’t come cheap. For a cash-strapped nursing, med or allied health student, forking out for one can seem something of a dilemma.
So, are Littman stethoscopes worth it?
Yes, Littman stethoscopes are worth it. You get what you pay for in quality. They’re robust, beautifully designed and extremely professional. There’s a reason most hospital/clinic staff use them; they’re the most durable stethoscope brand out there.
But they’re also super expensive. And probably only necessary for individuals who know they’ll get a lot of use out of them.
In this article we’ll go a little deeper into the debate.
- The main reasons to buy Littman
- Cheap (but decent quality) alternatives
- Why Littman is so expensive (and how you can tell the difference between real vs fake)
- Who they’re best for
As a med student who’s familiar with the brand but opted for another model, I know the pros and cons well. Money is precious, you need to make sure you get what’s right!
Ready to learn more about this iconic stethoscope brand? Let’s dive in.
Reasons to buy Littman
The best reasons to buy Littman (over other brands) include:
Performing a chest examination is hugely important when generally examining patients. Stethoscopes play a key role in helping identify chest sounds associated with the heart and lungs. That’s why precision is crucial.
Littman produce some of the most accurate models available (up to 4 times louder than most other brands). The bell (the part applied to the chest) is solid and finely machine cut. The tubing (the part carrying the sound to the ears) is some of the highest quality around.
The tunable diaphragm feature (on most models), makes it easy to amplify sounds just by adjusting the chest piece.
A stethoscope is something you’re likely to keep with you for years of your education and career. It’s something personal to you. Used (hopefully) only by you.
With a Littman you make that investment once and you get a stethoscope that lasts years.
The double-layered next-gen tubing is resistant to most chemicals and skin oils while being environmentally friendly and latex free at the same time.
Littman eartubes are made up of aerospace aluminium alloy, a premium material you’re unlikely to find in most other stethoscope brands. The strength of this material combines to make them light weight and portable.
Littman rest very comfortably around the neck!
You’ll already likely know about Littman’s prestige but the fact that most come engraved (at your request) helps take them to another level.
The fact you can convert closed bells to traditional open bells (making it super easy to use on pediatric or smaller patients) and, with tiny adjustments, dampen or tighten the headset pressure (with a simple squeeze), also sets the brand apart.
Is the 3M Littmann Classic III stethoscope the best?
The Classic III model is perhaps considered the gold standard of all Littman stethoscopes.
- Great value (retails anywhere between $90-150)
- Customizable chest pieces and tube colors (allows you to mix and match)
- Single piece diaphragm makes it easy to clean (compared to earlier models)
- Multiple year warranty (something you definitely don’t get with many other brands)
Obviously the Classic III has all the typical features of a Littman described above too.
What’s bad about Littman?
Of course you have to balance out all the good things about Littman as a brand with some of the criticisms. Only that way can we really know for sure if it’s worth investing in.
Here are the common criticisms when it comes to Littman:Expense:
Littman’s powerful marketing allows it to be priced a little higher than other, similar quality brands (think about it as the Apple of stethoscopes).
For many, it’s just a fashion statement.
2. Risk of theft
3. Lack of “try before you buy”
One possible con (although it’s not exclusive to Littman) is that using a stethoscope is a pretty personal thing. Everyone will have their own preferences when it comes to weight, earpieces, tubing and the way it sits around your neck as you work/study.
The fact that you can’t really “try before you buy” when it comes to Littman, could make it an expensive mistake.
Note: that’s why I always recommend looking at medical supply stores in person first (before buying something expensive like a stethoscope).
3 cheap (yet good quality) Littman alternatives
As for some decent Littman alternatives that won’t break the bank but are still high quality enough to be worth a look, here are a few useful suggestions.
MDF is the brand I went for when I chose my stethoscope for med school. Although they’ve been in the stethoscope game a shorter time than Littman (1971 compared to the 1960’s), they’re definitely not far behind in terms of R&D.
Where they definitely have Littman beat is price. MDF’s models are often half the price but just as customizable and neat-looking.
FriCare, in my opinion, create some of the most beautiful stethoscopes around. I’ve lost count of the amount of nurses I’ve seen on my rounds rocking these. The premium models are a lot cheaper than Littman too!
EverOne is another brand that makes stethoscopes very similar to Littman but at significantly cheaper prices. Like the former, they have similar features; dual lumen tubing, stainless steel chest pieces and non-chill rims (making them warm to the touch for patients).
Why are Littmann stethoscopes so expensive?
As mentioned before, you tend to get what you pay for with Littman. Their premium materials; non-latex tubing and alloy aluminium, jack up the price.
This is also the reason why Littman’s last longer than your bargain basement stethoscopes though. Especially those using cheap plastic tubing and corrosive, cheaper metals that are prone to bend and snap.
The types of stethoscopes your patients are unlikely to want to be examined with!
Where is the cheapest place to buy Littman stethoscopes?
The cheapest places I’ve seen online that you can buy Littman stethoscopes include:
- Medisave (ranging from $100-200)
- Allheart (ranging from $60-300)
As I said before, it’s a good idea to check the models out in a physical medical supply store first before buying!
How can I tell if my Littmann is real?
Possibly the biggest giveaway between a fake and a real Littman is the tubing. Fake ones tend to use cheaper single-layered rubber (usually latex).
Another thing to look at is the earpiece. If yours is hard and not malleable to the touch, it’s likely not a genuine Littman.
The diaphragm (bell) should be shiny with the Littman logo clearly visible.
Here’s a good breakdown on what else to look for…
Who are Littman’s best for?
Littman’s are definitely best for doctors, nurses and respective students. People who will be examining (or practicing) patients on a daily basis.
Personally I can’t see the expense of them being justified if that’s not something you’re doing.
But you also need to ensure you have the budget for this top of the range brand too. Only go for Littman if you’ve done your research, found and tried out a model you like the look of and are sure you can’t find a well-suiting cheaper alternative.
As you’ll see from my recommendations, I’m definitely not in the “best must be the most expensive” camp!
Do first year healthcare students/med students even need a stethoscope?
I’d say definitely no! Your first couple of years studying involve learning pre-clinical (theoretical) topics with little to no practice on patients.
It’s pointless getting something as expensive as a Littman at this point in your healthcare career.
Littman makes exceptional quality stethoscopes that are probably the best around. But they do come at a price.
Unless you know you can afford it and definitely want the prestige and comfort of a Littman, then it could be beneficial to look at some of the cheaper (yet still reliable) alternative brands recommended in this article.
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Born and raised in the UK, Will went into medicine late (31) after a career in journalism. He’s into football (soccer), learned Spanish after 5 years in Spain, and has had his work published all over the web. Read more.