Best Stethoscopes of 2019 – The Ultimate Guide

Contents

Choosing the right stethoscope can feel like a daunting task. Here at Acrosophy, we often get asked what the best stethoscope is for a particular student or profession. Many of our readers are students heading off to university but our recommendations extend into several career paths. Some of you may want to have a stethoscope for life, which is certainly possible given the quality available, others just need something that does the job. To help answer everyone’s question regardless of career, budget or education level we have compiled the Ultimate Guide to the Best Stethoscopes, updated for 2019.

 

Contents Guide

 

  1. Why Do We Use Stethoscopes?
  2. The History of Stethoscopes
  3. How Do Stethoscopes Work?
  4. What Makes a Good Quality Stethoscope?
  5. Types of Stethoscope
  6. Why Should You Invest in the Best Stethoscope You Can Afford?
  7. The Ultimate Stethoscope
  8. How To Choose The Best Stethoscope For You
  9. Best stethoscope for doctors
  10. Best stethoscope for doctors – option 2
  11. Best stethoscope for cardiologists
  12. Best stethoscope for cardiologists – option 2
  13. Best stethoscope for paediatrics
  14. Best stethoscope for paediatrics – option 2
  15. Best all in one stethoscope
  16. Best stethoscope for medical students
  17. Best stethoscope for nurses
  18. Best stethoscope for paramedics
  19. Best stethoscope for physiotherapists
  20. Best veterinary stethoscope
  21. Best stethoscope for home use
  22. Best electronic stethoscope
  23. Best budget stethoscope
  24. Best value for money stethoscope
  25. Best vanity stethoscope
  26. Best Stethoscope Travelling Case
  27. Best Stethoscope Travelling Case – Option 2

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Why Do We Use Stethoscopes?

 

Stethoscopes have long been associated with the symbol of a medical doctor but why are they even used in the first place? What advantage does their use give to the user? Knowing the answer to these questions will help you decide which stethoscope is best for you.

Stethoscopes are of course an extension of the clinician’s ear, and an alternative to having to manually auscultate, that is, to listen to the body by pressing your ear against the intended area or organ. Stethoscopes improve on the human ear in a number of ways, mainly in sound quality and volume. They carry sound from the surface of the patient to the clinician’s ear and modulate and amplify certain tones.

This accentuates the most important sounds so that diagnosis is made easier and more effective. Stethoscopes have not been completely replaced in the clinical environment for good reason. Despite all the recent advances in technology and and medicine, having quick and reliable access to a whole host of diagnostic signs is invaluable.

 

The History of Stethoscopes

 

Considering the long and illustrious history of medicine and human health, stethoscopes have been around for a relatively short period of time with the two hundred year anniversary recently celebrated in 2016. Back in 1800s France, there was a young physician by the name of Rene Théophile Hyacinthe Laënnec who became frustrated by the limitations of placing his ear on every patient. Living in more conservative times, he was embarrassed as well by having to place his face on the chests of his female patients.

In 1816 Dr Laënnec wrote in his journal that he was struggling with the diagnosis of a young female patient. Despite using all his usual diagnostic techniques he was not able to assess her heart properly. He recalled a game that Parisian children used to play with each other. They would hold a wooden pole and scratch the end to send a message, much like children used to hold two cups connected with a piece of string.

In the same way as the children the doctor wanted to somehow transmit sounds from the patient’s body to his ear. Not having a wooden beam to hand he settled with rolling up a piece of paper and placing it next to the woman’s heart. He noted in his diary with surprise that not only could he hear the heart with clarity but it was even better than using his own ear.

Since then the stethoscope has been greatly refined into the specimens we see today. It took roughly another 15 years before the wooden tube evolved into the dual tube system that is the modern norm. An Irish physician, Dr Arthur Leared, invented the binaural stethoscope in 1851 and by 1852 this was finally commercialised by George Cammann.

No true big changes have been made since the initial inventions in the 1800s. Notably however, David Littmann of Harvard Medical School, improved on the design by making it both more lightweight and better in terms of acoustics. Today the world of ever shrinking electronics is now formulating new versions such as noise cancelling and audio recording stethoscopes.

 

How Do Stethoscopes Work?

 

At their most fundamental stethoscopes consist of a diaphragm to rest against the patient, a flexible connecting tube and an ear plug for the clinician. As sounds are generated within the patient’s body they create vibrations which travel to the skin and vibrate the diaphragm. This vibration causes changes in the air pressure inside the connecting tube and sound waves travel up to the listener’s ear.

To help with hearing different pitches, modern stethoscopes have an opposing side to their diaphragm. Usually an open bell, this connects to the same tubing as the diaphragm but crucially is of a different diameter. This difference in overall area means each side is optimised to transmit a certain frequency. To hear low frequency sounds the bell side is used along with light pressure. Rotating the head of the stethoscope will close off the bell and open, or index the diaphragm. The diaphragm side can then be used to listen to higher pitch tones.

 

What Makes a Good Quality Stethoscope?

 

A good quality stethoscope is simply one that increases your natural auscultating ability whilst being comfortable to use. There is no point buying an acoustically excellent stethoscope if you leave it in the office because the ear plugs are hurting. That being said ,there are a few other key components that you will want in any version that you buy. All good stethoscopes, like the ones included on this list have a continuous lining on the inside. This is really an industry standard but it may be absent in the ultra cheap market, so be aware that you get what you pay for. Make sure as well if you try a non-recommended brand that the tubing is not stiff or hard. This is usually a bad sign that your equipment will split and crack after only minimal use.

 

Types of Stethoscope

 

The Dual Sided Stethoscope
The Single Sided Stethoscope
The Triple Sided Stethoscope
The Cardiology Stethoscope
The Sprague-Rappaport Stethoscope
The Paediatric Stethoscope

 

Why Should You Invest in the Best Stethoscope You Can Afford?

 

Diagnosis – The first and most important reason to own a stethoscope. You must make sure that your diagnostic needs are being met. If they are not, then you are failing both yourself and your patient.
Consistency – You do not want to be distracted by tubing that doesn’t bend or ear plugs that don’t fit. Every time you listen to a patient’s signs you want to be able to focus on the task at hand.
Convenience – If you buy a cheap stethoscope then you may find yourself in a situation where you need to seek out better equipment for a particular case or scenario. Having the right tool at the right time is half the battle won so don’t waste precious seconds that could be spent diagnosing if you don’t have to.

 

The Ultimate Stethoscope

 

Of course this is an intentional attention grabbing headline. There is of course no such thing as the ultimate stethoscope. There are of course the most expensive examples such as the electronic Littmann and the Master Cardiology but they are unlikely to be the best one for you. Picking up an electronic cardiology stethoscope for the first day of your degree or training is only going to hinder rather than help you. When you are learning you want an absolute minimum number of things to concentrate on so your energy is spent remembering what’s important.

 

How To Choose The Best Stethoscope For You

 

Choosing the right stethoscope mostly comes down to two things: cost and weight. You need to ask yourself if the model you are considering is really necessary for your day to day job? Do you feel you have the skills to use the more advanced features properly?

There is nothing wrong with buying something you feel you will hold onto for years to come but remember it will be around your neck and in use for each patient. The most advanced models tend to be the heaviest for good reason but are needed by the minority of clinicians. Use the links below to jump to the options recommended for you and your career. Don’t want to have to choose and just want a very good stethoscope that will do the job in the majority of scenarios?

That would be the Littmann Classic III, probably the best value and most versatile model for the price.

  • Small tuneable diaphragm is useful for paediatric, or thin patients; around bandages; and for carotid assessment
  • Next-generation tubing lining
  • Double-lumen tubing comparable to Cardiology stethoscopes
  • 2 year warranty
  • Good acoustic quality but does not cover the full range
  • 160g

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Acoustic Quality

The Littmann Classic III is the workhorse of the clinical environment. Perhaps the most widely sold model, it combines solid acoustic performance with an affordable price point. The two-sided chest piece with tunable diaphragms on both the adult and paediatric sides allow for use across the patient population.

This model differs from the Classic II which found the rise of alcohol gel in hospitals damaging to the tubing. The Classic III contains next-generation double lumen tubing and improved resistance to skin oils and alcohol. This is a piece of equipment which is likely to be used for a very long time without the user feeling the need to upgrade.

  • Tunable diaphragm
  • Anatomically designed headset
  • Non-chill rim
  • Latex free materials
  • 2 year warranty
  • Not as good quality for money as some other options
  • 160g

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Acoustic Quality

  • The best acoustic quality available
  • Solid construction
  • 7 year warranty
  • Focuses on the mainstay of auscultation: cardiology
  • High price
  • Heavy
  • How often will you keep a special procedures adaptor with you?
  • 185g

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Acoustic Quality

The Littmann Master chest piece is handcrafted with an eye catching design and tunable diaphragm. This stethoscope represents for many the pinnacle of Littman acoustics and design. At Acrosophy we have found that the acoustic clarity of this stethoscope is unrivalled in the analogue space and gives clinicians the full audio spectrum they are looking for when examining patients.

Littmann really put their name to this model with a 7 year warranty included with each order. A special procedures adaptor is included for infant or paediatric auscultation to ensure you are not left wanting regardless of the situation. An anatomically designed headset is angled to meet the path of the ear canal to  give maximum comfort. Another stand out feature is being able to choose the length of your stethoscope which really comes down to personal choice rather than need.

  • Excellent acoustic quality
  • Solid construction
  • 7 year warranty
  • Great all rounder with small side for elderly and paediatrics
  • High price
  • Heavy
  • 177g

%

Acoustic Quality

For those who want the best quality stethoscope but prefer a double sided chest piece, the Cardiology IV is for you. This stethoscope also contains a double lumen to minimise rubbing noises and gives you the choice of 22 and 27 inch lengths, just like the Master Cardiology stethoscope. Again a 7 year warranty is offered.

Really this is a very similar beast to the model reviewed above. If you want something closer to your older model Classic II or III but with improved acoustics, this is the stethoscope for you.

ADC Adimals Paediatric Stethoscope

  • Good sound quality
  • Great fun design for children
  • Non-chill rim
  • Lightweight
  • Too small for larger children
  • Tubing can react to alcohol gel and wipes
  • 85g

%

Acoustic Quality

There are many factors to consider when buying equipment but patient interaction is always at the forefront of paediatrics. This is a good quality stethoscope that is well presented and breaks down some of the barriers children feel when being examined in hospital.

In total there are 7 interchangeable animal face snap-ons including a Panda, Frog, Koala, Deer, Monkey, Tiger and Bear. The chest piece is 1.5 inches, well suited for paediatric application that comes paired with a variety of tubing colour choices. Due to the animal faces, this is a single sided stethoscope with a tunable diaphragm depending on the pressure applied. We think this makes an excellent choice for paediatric physicians and nurses.

One downside noted by users is that strong alcohol cleansing agents, even alcohol wipes,  can make the rubber texture of the tubing overly sticky. While this can be an issue with other brands make sure to wash with warm soapy water to stop equipment snagging on clothes and hair.

  • The Gold Standard of paediatric stethoscopes
  • Dual sided to cover all possible applications
  • Heavier than ADC model but still light
  • Can be coloured but is not as child friendly as other offerings

  • 104g

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Acoustic Quality

This great little stethoscope is essentially the miniature version of the normal sized Classic III. Weighing in at just over 65% of the larger model, the Littmann Classic II retains the dual sided chest piece and great acoustic quality.

As with other Littmann products it is constructed using latex free materials to accommodate allergy sensitive users and comes with a nochill rim as standard.

  • Lifetime warranty
  • Wide range of applications
  • Solid sound quality
  • X-configuration lumen for improved sound transmission
  • Stiffer tubing than competition
  • unlisted

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Acoustic Quality

We weren’t sure who this stethoscope was aimed at so we have added the All in One section just to give it a place on our list. MDF have gone out of their way to try and create a stethoscope that can do everything and with excellent acoustic quality for the price.

To begin with they have opted for the more cumbersome Sprague Rappaport-like dual acoustic lumen but in a unique X configuration to help improve noise dampening and eliminate acoustic rubbing. This is all topped off with nine possible configurations for all your auscultation needs, including a bell and diaphragm option for adults, paediatrics and infants. This could be a good choice for a ob/gyn doctor who is on rotation and doesn’t want to resort to carrying two stethoscopes around.

  • Small tuneable diaphragm is useful for paediatric, or thin patients; around bandages; and for carotid assessment
  • Next-generation tubing lining
  • Double-lumen tubing comparable to Cardiology stethoscopes
  • 2 year warranty
  • Good acoustic quality but does not cover the full range
  • 160g

%

Acoustic Quality

The Littmann Classic III is the workhorse of the clinical environment. Perhaps the most widely sold model, it combines solid acoustic performance with an affordable price point. The two-sided chest piece with tunable diaphragms on both the adult and paediatric sides allow for use across the patient population.

This model differs from the Classic II which found the rise of alcohol gel in hospitals damaging to the tubing. The Classic III contains next-generation double lumen tubing and improved resistance to skin oils and alcohol. This is a piece of equipment which is likely to be used for a very long time without the user feeling the need to upgrade.

  • Level mix of quality and affordability
  • Ergonomically designed for its most used application
  • 2 year warranty
  • Will struggle when used for complete cardiological assessment
  • 118g

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Acoustic Quality

This is a great stethoscope for constant everyday heavy use. While it’s lightweight build means it is not the best out there in terms of acoustics,  it is still very usable in the clinical setting for hearing significant heart and lung sounds. The chest piece has a tear drop shape allowing it to make better contact against frail and thin patients. It also allows for greater proximity to blood pressure cuffs when taking a reading. While it may stand in the line up as an entry level model, there is nothing cheap about this option. As a dual sided, tunable stethoscope this would make a great and durable first stethoscope for a nurse or nursing student.

There are many cheap stethoscopes that therapists or nurses may turn to for basic observation checks. They may be cheaper than the Littmann but they will not match in terms of design, acoustics or weight.

Littmann Select

  • Lightweight but solid construction
  • Tunable diaphragm
  • Better acoustic quality can be had for a modest jump in price
  • 2 year warranty only
  • 120g

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Acoustic Quality

Similar to the Lightweight II S.E. the Select Stethoscope weighs in just 2g heavier and features and enclosed single sided chest piece. This design allows for a better grip on the stethoscope in rushed and hectic clinical environments and removes the need to flip the stethoscope to the other side.

The select is indeed an entry level model but is designed with vital signs in mind. An ovoid chest piece allows for better orientation around blood-pressure cuffs and body contours. Heart and lung sounds can be accentuated using differing pressure with the tunable diaphragm. Large earbuds provide a good acoustic seal and next generation tubing means this stethoscope is likely to last for as long as you need it.

  • Small tuneable diaphragm is useful for paediatric, or thin patients; around bandages; and for carotid assessment
  • Next-generation tubing lining
  • Double-lumen tubing comparable to Cardiology stethoscopes
  • 2 year warranty
  • Good acoustic quality but does not cover the full range
  • 160g

%

Acoustic Quality

The Littmann Classic III is the workhorse of the clinical environment. Perhaps the most widely sold model, it combines solid acoustic performance with an affordable price point. The two-sided chest piece with tunable diaphragms on both the adult and paediatric sides allow for use across the patient population.

This model differs from the Classic II which found the rise of alcohol gel in hospitals damaging to the tubing. The Classic III contains next-generation double lumen tubing and improved resistance to skin oils and alcohol. This is a piece of equipment which is likely to be used for a very long time without the user feeling the need to upgrade.

NCD Clinical Veterinary Stethoscope

  • Versatile 42cm tubing length
  • Good acoustics for the price
  • Mainly for limited clinical assessments
  • unlisted

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Acoustic Quality

While any of the stethoscopes in this ultimate guide can be used by veterinarians there are some which are better suited to the job than others. Classically paediatric stethoscopes have been used when examining smaller animals and then adult or cardiology stethoscopes for larger bodies.

One issue that remains however; is that the majority of brands make their tubing only one length, two if you are lucky. This can make auscultation as a vet difficult as you twist and stretch to try and get the correct placement and sound. The NCD veterinary stethoscope however has been shown  in the field to be effective in dealing with a range of animals from cat and dogs to horses. Despite differing levels of anatomy and fur this stethoscope ensures clear sound and good acoustic range for the user.

  • Lifetime Limited Warranty
  • Matching Carry Case
  • Perfect for non-clinical use
  • An entry level Littmann would provide better acoustics
  • You pay for a blood pressure cuff you may not need
  • unlisted

%

Acoustic Quality

If you look after a loved one or simply want to monitor your own health at home, you won’t find much better than this stethoscope manufactured by Sprague. The acoustic quality may be limited but we are recommending this equipment for nonclinical users. Some students may have bought this as their first stethoscope but  when assessing clinical signs for diagnosis a clearer sound will be desired.

For the home user this functions perfectly well and comes with a blood pressure cuff included for the price. If you don’t want to use an electronic blood pressure cuff then check out this guide[link] on how to properly use the stethoscope and sphygmomanometer.

The kit includes a carry case for both items, featuring four front pockets, including a coin pocket, key chain clip and matching colour Velcro tabs to secure instruments. It also Comes with 5.5″ Lister bandage scissors, a disposable penlight and 3-colour chart pen.

  • Simply the best audio quality
  • Listen to the full range of tone – this is not possible with an analogue stethoscope
  • Great aid for hearing impaired practitioners
  • Price
  • Weight
  • Complexity
  • 185g

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Acoustic Quality

As one of the main stethoscope manufacturers, it makes sense to go with a reputable brand when venturing into new kinds of technology. Littmann list the applications for this stethoscope as A and E, cardiology, general practice, infant, paediatric and pulmonology. So covering most niche needs, is this stethoscope better than the rest?

Features are listed as 24x sound amplification and 85% ambient noise reduction with a LCD user interface and heart rate monitor. With its auto-on feature the unit stays in battery saving sleep mode until needed.

Unlike analogue stethoscopes, the 3100 does not have a tunable diaphragm. Instead,  the diaphragm tension (or acoustic level you can hear) is changed with a button on the back of the chestpiece. There is an ‘extended range filter’ which allows you to auscultate at all frequencies simultaneously. Couple this with the ability to adjust the volume and you have a piece of kit that allows you to detect clinical signs even with plenty of environmental noise and distraction.

The digital diaphragm means the clinician does not need to worry about applying correct pressure or improper contact due to the patient’s body habitus. That being said, using the 3100 against clothing does bring a noticeable drop in quality, although you may find this an acceptable tradeoff. Being a clinician in the UK means you will not be allowed to wear a watch or anything else below the elbow. The 3100 helps with this by displaying the patient heart rate after 15 seconds of contact.

At the end of the day however, purchasing this stethoscope will mean parting with 3-4 times the amount of money you would pay for a very good analogue stethoscope. While this may give excellent and clear audio, there is the argument reliance becoming an issue. What happens if the batteries die, you leave it at home or lose it? Will you be able to adjust to using the £10 budget stethoscope you find lying on the crash trolley?

Rather than day to day use,  this item is best suited to scenarios which require careful study of heart sounds or in an education setting. At Acrosophy we have not tested a stethoscope which has made heart, lung or bowel sounds clearer. There also is not a Littmann made to date which is heavier or more expensive. Relying on pressing buttons and batteries lasting adds another layer of uncertainty to the mix.

If you fall into the unique use cases listed then by all means go ahead and make the purchase. If you are however an enthusiastic student with money to burn go and buy a Classic III instead. You will learn just as much and won’t feel the weight around your neck day after day.

  • Very cheap
  • Fulfils job of HR and BP auscultation
  • Uncomfortable to use
  • Not durable
  • Difficult to use for anything but gross examination
  • unlisted

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Acoustic Quality

This dual head stethoscope compromises of a lightweight, robust aluminium chest piece with a bell to one side and a diaphragm to the other. The ‘Y’ tubing and eartips are made with durable PVC and chrome plated brass is used to construct the binaural.

Construction may be solid but be warned with using a stethoscope this cheap. Lots of people use it without complaint and feel the audio transmission is adequate. There are however many others, the author included, who would have issue using this model on a daily basis. The give in the construction materials is tight compared to superior brands. This creates added pressure on your ears which does not mix well with the hard earbuds.

The diaphragm fails to be tunable and the tubing itself is liable to crack when twisted or crumpled at the bottom of a packed bag. As a emergency backup for simple observational measurements this model will do the job. The Acrosophy recommendation however would be to save up for at least an entry level model like the Littmann Select or Lightweight II.

  • Accufit earplugs
  • Lifetime Warranty
  • Free-Parts-for-Life Program
  • Lightweight
  • Slightly longer tubing
  • Middling quality acoustics
  • Limited tuning ability
  • 122g

%

Acoustic Quality

This is likely the cheapest you will want to go in terms of a stethoscope for daily clinical use. MDF have managed to make a comfortable, lightweight stethoscope with acceptable acoustic for the fraction of the price of its competitors. Considerably more sturdy than the budget options which flood the market, any student or clinician on a budget or looking for a back up stethoscope won’t be unhappy with this offering.

The diaphragm may be less sensitive to tuning than more mid-range models but this is a small complaint with something that can often be ordered for less than £20. If you have limited funds we would definitely recommend MDF over over the St John’s Ambulance model.

  • Good sound quality for the price
  • Dual lumen acoustics
  • Lifetime warranty
  • Free parts for life program
  • Weight
  • Chest piece size
  • Feels like an inferior product in the hand compared to pricier options
  • unlisted

%

Acoustic Quality

Described by MDF as a ‘Cardiology-grade’ stethoscope this is a stethoscope that sounds almost as good as it looks. It comes as a two sided chest with a durable dual-lumen tubing. It is this tubing, along with the fact that this offering is often close to half the price of a comparable Littmann that makes it so enticing. Although we have listed this as a ‘Vanity Stethoscope’ because of the gold accents on the metal this does not mean this stethoscope can’t provide good quality acoustics.

The acoustic connoisseur will be able to detect differences between this and the Littmann Cardiology IV stethoscope but for junior staff or those who want an affordable step up from their everyday equipment, this is a very good choice. To compete with the behemoth that is Littmann, MDF have built the tubing with a dual-leaf spring construction. Anecdotally, this seems to have resulted in a stethoscope that is much more durable in withstanding day to day wear and tear.

Nothing in this life is given for free however. While there are a number of great things about the stethoscope, including its price which is clearly how MDF are competing,  there are a few trade offs. The design of the chest piece cannot be described as compact, which may become apparent if you are used to stuffing your steth into a back pocket or small handbag.

We reviewed the MDF documentation but could not find a weight listed for the product. Our experience suggests however that this weighs more than the Cardiology Littman’s, so it may be one to try before you buy. As with any competitor that is trying to compete with the biggest companies, there is lots to love with this MDF stethoscope, just make sure you are happy with the deficits that come with saving a bit of money.

  • Good construction quality
  • Set area for your stethoscope
Only holds single lumen stethoscopes on one side
  • unlisted

Acoustic Quality

If your job requires you to carry a variety of medical equipment or if you work in a number of locations day to day, you may want to invest in a carry case. For UK ambulance personnel, this case thankfully just about fits in LAS large pockets (although bear in mind you cannot button it shut ). Students looking to practice their clinical skills will appreciate the mesh pocket to keep pens, tuning forks, ophthalmoscopes and more.

The case has a hardened shell with a moulded area for your stethoscope but bear in mind this model will not fit larger cardiology steths. The Pod Technical classicpod carry case is a perfect fit for “Classic” style stethoscopes:

Littmann Classic II SE
Littmann Classic III
Littmann Select
Littmann Lightweight
Littmann Classic II, Infant, Paediatric
Littmann Master Classic

Unlike generic cases, the classicpod has been designed specifically for Classic sized, single lumen scopes. For Cardiology sized, dual lumen steths, see the Cardiopod case here.

  • Good construction quality
  • Set area for your stethoscope
Only holds single lumen stethoscopes on one side
  • unlisted

Acoustic Quality

If you don’t want to have a moulded case for your stethoscope and would prefer the versatility of an open mesh system, then we recommend Mikaso carry cases. It has double mesh pockets with the bottom mesh for your stethoscope. The top mesh pocket provides secure storage for pens, tape, scissors and more.

We think the design and style of these cases is superior to similarly priced offerings. Despite the tough construction there is a soft external weave with microfibre lining  to protect your instruments.