Which entry level ultrasound scanner?
The difference in image quality between a $2000 machine and $5000 machine are undeniable, but what about ultrasound machines which are priced even lower than this? Which one should you choose?
I compared the PulseEcho, MSU3, and another typical mechanical sector scanner – in this case, one bought for $1000 from Amazon. The fact that it is branded ‘Gandaofu’ doesn’t matter: it’s representative of all similar looking machines in this price bracket. Gandaofu is a made up name and not the true manufacturer of this machine, just like Contec isn’t the manufacturer of the CMS600, and so on. That is why when you buy from a Chinese company on Amazon or eBay, you’re unlikely to receive any help or support – the sellers are not makers or users of ultrasound and have no idea what they are selling.
For this comparison, images were taken on a pregnant guinea pig who is very used to being scanned, and will happily volunteer herself in exchange for pea flakes or apple peel. Scanning time was kept very short (13 seconds) on the unknown Chinese scanner. Ultrasound safety is particularly important in very small animals, and you can learn more about keeping all animals safe during scanning here.
This was a particularly tough test. All ultrasound machines struggle with nearfield scanning, and due to their small body size, guinea pigs will always be in the nearfield. All of these scanners would perform better on larger animals like dogs or goats, but the resolution differences observed would remain the same.
$1200 scanner from Amazon
My Chinese isn’t terribly good, but I managed to find my way around this machine. Its controls are quite limited, and the depth shown in the video below is the shallowest the scanner would allow. It’s a mechanical sector scanner, which means the probe vibrates in your hand (and, of course, on the animal’s tummy – and not all animals will tolerate this sensation).
I was able to confirm pregnancy with it, but admittedly, only because I already knew she was pregnant. If I didn’t, I’d probably still have been able to confirm pregnancy but not viability. There was absolutely no chance of catching any heartbeats on this scanner.
$850 MSU3 Ultrasound Scanner
I then compared it with the MSU3 portable ultrasound machine for $850. Also a mechanical sector scanner, I had the same depth issues here as I did with the Amazon machine, as it’s designed for use with sheep, goats and pigs which are not of the guinea variety. However, the image quality was definitely a lot better. Watch the video below and see if you can ‘get your eye in’ and spot the gestation sac at the top with a fetus inside. With this machine, I would be very confident confirming pregnancy, but I would confirm viability based on fetal movements as opposed to heartbeats, which would simply be too small for a scanner of this resolution to pickup. This machine performs well as a budget yes/no machine on larger animals.
Above: scanning a sow last year with the MSU3.
$1290 PulseEcho Wireless Scanner
I now compared the two mechanical sector scanners to an electronic scanner. The PulseEcho is a convex transducer that communicates wirelessly with a tablet or smartphone, through a (free) downloadable app. One great advantage is that images can be saved directly onto the handheld device, making them easily shareable.
Scanning with this probe was a little bit tricky due to the footprint size: this scanner, too, is designer for larger animals. You can see I am losing contact down the sides. However, the image is definitely a lot clearer, and you can make out the skull of a fetus to the right of the image.
On a larger animal (six week pregnancy in a Cockapoo), imaging is a lot clearer:
For the ultimate comparison…
It is worth reiterating that all of these are budget scanners, and not machines I would advise using for serious scanning. These are just typical examples of starter systems that people often begin their ultrasound journey with. I include the same guinea pig scan performed again on a higher end machine, for comparison. If you are in the market for a scanner but know you can’t justify spending more than $1500, look away now!
If you’re interested in seeing a full set of comparisons between a ScanX and an Apogee 1000 Lite, please see this article. If you need help finding the right ultrasound machine for you, please get in touch. Remember, most pricing on this website is in GBP with 20% tax included. If you live outside of the UK, you do not have to pay this tax, so it is worth emailing in your requirements so that we can advise you on pricing in your country.