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Supporting Professionals Who Care

Top 10 Stethoscope Facts



The humble stethoscope has been around for hundreds of years and is an everyday diagnostic tool for healthcare professionals like Doctors, Nurses and Paramedics working in a range of environments including hospitals, nursing and care homes, GP practices & walk-in centres, and in front-line services like ambulance trusts.  Stethoscopes are also used in veterinary care to help look after our furry friends.


Leading stethoscope brands include Littmann and ADC (American Diagnostic Corporation) stethoscopes with respective products including the Littmann Classic and ADC 603 Classic stethoscopes.  At DS Medical we offer the ADC range of stethoscopes and there is something for everyone - from teaching stethoscopes to cardiology stethoscopes.  We, and our customers, believe that ADC stethoscopes offer a fantastic product with great acoustics, at a fantastic budget price compared to others on the market.


Whether you are here wanting to expand your stethoscope knowledge to impress your friends with, or researching for a healthcare course, we think our Top 10 stethoscope facts will help.  And remember if you found this useful, why not share it with your friends and colleagues.



  1. The first stethoscope was invented in 1816 by French doctor René Laënnec and consisted of a wooden tube, similar to an ear trumpet (used by those who were hard of hearing). The stethoscope was a monaural device, meaning it was used with just one ear. The picture below shows an example of this stethoscope.
  2. Prior to the invention of the first stethoscope, physicians would place their ear directly to the patient (known as immediate auscultation) and percuss the chest (a process of gently tapping the body with fingers - still used today).
  3. A series of updates and improvements were made in the mid-1850s including the development of the binaural device we know and continue to use today.
  4. Dr David Littmann, a distinguished cardiologist and Harvard Medical School professor is accredited with further developing the stethoscope in the mid-1960s and in particular, improving the acoustic performance.
  5. The basic components of the stethoscope are the headset, tubing, and the chestpiece (see the image and additional information below).
  6. Some stethoscopes feature a single head chestpiece that incorporates a diaphragm and bell into one - known as multi-frequency stethoscopes. These work by varying the pressure applied to the chestpiece to hear different levels of sound as if it was diaphragm/bell type (dual head).
  7. The diaphragm is used to listen to high pitch sounds and the bell, mid and low pitch sounds.
  8. The diaphragm of a stethoscope functions much like the human eardrum, in that it vibrates. These vibrations move the air in the stethoscope tubing, which in turn is detected by your eardrum and interpreted as sound by your brain.
  9. The stethoscope can be used to listen to a variety of sounds to assist with the assessment and diagnosis of a patient. These include lung, heart and bowel sounds. The stethoscope is also routinely used in association with a sphygmomanometer to assess blood pressure by listening to blood flow sounds.
  10. When using a stethoscope remember that the ear tips should point forwards in your ears to follow the natural path of your ear canals to ensure the best acoustics. The best practice when using a stethoscope is to use it at skin level and don't forget to clean it after use to help control the risk of infection.



The first-ever stethoscope was invented and used by French doctor René Laënnec in 1816.

René Laënnec, the stethoscope inventor, using immediate auscultation on a patient.

The basic components of a modern stethoscope. 



Binaural assembly

Stethoscope ear tubes are connected by a tensioning spring that holds the earpieces firmly & comfortably in the ear.  Some models have the ear tubes permanently affixed to the tubing. In less costly models they are a friction fit.  Some stethoscopes have rotatable & adjustable ear tubes.  The more expensive stethoscopes tend to have the ear tubes fixed at a 15-degree angle for a snug aural fit. Binaural can be machined from aluminium, brass (chrome-plated) or stainless steel.  Stainless is more durable and its general mass eliminates some of the extraneous noise.



Stethoscope ear tips are usually made of hard or soft plastic and are threaded, snap-on or friction fit.  High-quality stethoscopes generally have softer eartips that fit more snugly in the aural canal.


Valve stem    

Dual headed stethoscopes have a rotating valve that allows for the selection of one side of the chest piece or the other.



Stethoscope tubing is generally made of PVC and is used to transmit the sounds from the chest piece to the bi-aural (ear tube) assembly.



The diaphragm is used in the stethoscope for the detection of high-frequency sounds.  It is usually made of PVC or an epoxy fibreglass compound.



The bell side is used in the stethoscope or detection of low-frequency sounds.  Some stethoscopes have a single head and therefore the diaphragm and bell are combined, with the bell being activated by varying the pressure applied to the chest piece.


Diaphragm & and non-chill bell ring

Each stethoscope has a retaining ring that secures the diaphragm to the chest-piece.  This may snap-on or be threaded.  Most stethoscopes feature a non-chill bell ring that insulates the metal bell to improve patient comfort.  On higher quality stethoscopes, the ring also extends the walls of the bell to improve acoustic performance.



Now that you have enhanced your knowledge of the humble stethoscope, be sure to browse through our complete range of ADC stethoscopes.  If you need help and advice on choosing the right stethoscope then check out our article on 'Choosing the right stethoscope for you' or you can get in touch with our expert team on 01329 311451 or you can read


Did you know we also sell ADC stethoscope replacement parts like stethoscope diaphragms, retaining rings and stethoscope ear tips.  As always, if you cannot find what you need be sure to get in touch so we can help you.