With so many available options, how do you choose the right one? How can you make sure you’re getting a safe, good quality device? What should you look for and what should you stay away from? We’re here to answer your questions
Below is our list of the top 5 recommended tDCS devices. In total we’ve collected, inspected, and strapped on close to two-dozen tDCS devices. Only a select few made it to this cherry picked list. Our recommendations are not based strictly on functionality and feature set, but also on manufacturing quality and product safety.
Unavailable on their website. Check third party vendors
We love The Brain Stimulator and have been using their products for many years. They’re one of the longest operating companies in the industry, starting as a grass roots project very active in the tDCS community. The company was started by a college student who won a number of awards for his work in tDCS. The Brain Stimulator has been featured in numerous news publications including a prime-time news segment on ABC Nightline. The company has been a big advocate for consumer safety and manufacturing standards. and are one of the few companies which have regularly released new product upgrades.
Their current tDCS device, The Brain Stimulator v3.0 is a perfect combination of simplicity and functionality. It’s incredibly user friendly and portable, fitting nicely in the palm of your hand. It includes all of the essential tDCS features such as current ramping, session timer, and low battery warning, and the integrated safety technology goes above and beyond our minimum device standards. The internal circuit design is very clean and professional paralleled only by some of the top-shelf medical-grade devices. This is a company we continue to recommend to both new and experienced tDCS users.
What We Like:
- One of the first commercially available tDCS Devices.
- Transparent company – started by a college student in California – was very active on reddit
- Featured in several large news organizations (ABC, PBS, NY Times, etc.)
- Regularly launching new & improved products, all of which have been incredibly portable.
- They make all their products in the USA
- Impressive circuitry design including low battery indicator & session timer (device standards)
- Several redundant safety functions.
- Introduced the concept of “boost voltage” (constant power despite battery health)
What We Dislike:
- High demand – Devices seem to sell out quickly
- Website has been taken down and products no longer available for purchase.
- Older model products don’t include optimal ramping.
- The “Travel Model” (no longer sold) only featured two current levels (1mA & 2mA).
- Community concerns with 1st Gen Travel Model’s ability to overcome high resistance.
While it may appear plain Jane from the outside, there’s an awesome array of features hidden under the hood. In realty, the TransCranial Technologies Stimulator is considered more of a scientific/research-grade tDCS device. However, we’re including it here because it happens to be one of the only devices in the “research-grade” category which are available for sale directly to consumers. This is a device we definitely recommend. While it is pretty pricey, with a current price tag of $349.00 USD, it’s well worth the money.
What We Like:
- User defined session length timer
- Sessions can be set at current increments of 0.1mA
- Automatic pause if external resistance is too high (i.e. electrodes become disconnected)
- Notifications to reposition sponges if external resistance is too variable
- Same device has been sold since it’s introduction (no known improvements over time).
What We Dislike:
- Pretty bulky device – You’re basically stuck at your desk while using it.
- Not consumer friendly
- LED screen is too small – only three lines of text, it can be a little difficult to navigate (but not as bad as the Foc.us v2, coming up…)
- Not possible to change output current during a session – must first end the session and setup a new session.
Super Specific Devices is yet another company that has been around for quite a long time. It was started by two individuals in a studio near Portland, Oregon, and seems to have a real “homey” feel. While the current product we recommend is officially titled: SSD 5.0 12/24 Volt Selectable Voltage tDCS Device. they also once had a digital metered tDCS device. They no longer sell it, but if you can find it, grab it. As far as metered devices go, it was our favorite.
What We Like:
- Constantly improving their devices and releasing new models.
- One of only a few tDCS devices to feature selectable voltage (hardware based).
- A nice “retro” analog metered tDCS device which is significantly smaller than the Apex device.
- Cool, retro styled device which is quite small for a device with an analog meter.
- Analog meter has a max reading of 3mA – Much better than Apex’s 5mA meter
What We Dislike:
- Still selling self adhesive electrodes – Poorly designed electrodes *
- Device enclosure appears to be 3D printed, and actually uses the same back cover from The Brain Stimulator v3.0 device. Weird.
- Analog meters are very delicate and depending on the build quality, can break very easily. An even bigger concern is the ability for the needle to be knocked off alignment resulting in incorrect current readings.
While Focus’ first product had some notable safety issues, their second and third generation product seems really rock solid. The visual interface and incremental session & ramping timers are totally awesome. With this device, you pretty much get it all. It can even produce stimulation sessions utilizing tACS, tRNS, and a few others. However, that is precisely the reason why Focus didn’t rank higher on our list. Well, that and price (currently 400 bucks!)…
Many of the included “alternative” stimulation methods are backed by very little scientific research, and while it’s neat that Focus allows the user the ability to explore these brain stimulation alternatives, there exists a level of safety concern due to lack of research. We’re tDCS guys and we firmly believe in tDCS’s strong scientific backing, and it’s superior performance above other alternative stimulation methods. But all in all, this is not a device we would dissuade people from looking into.
What We Like:
- Also been around since the beginning – actually may have been the first commercially available tDCS Device.
- Very feature packed device – practically as robust as the TCT device, but packed into a product the size of a Bic lighter.
- While hard to find, their website contains a wealth of technical information about their products.
- Great safety features (triple redundant), see here (doc upload).
- SUPER compact device, you can take this thing anywhere.
What We Dislike:
- Products are way overpriced – The Focus v2 & v3 Stimulator are currently $400 while their significantly lesser and NOT recommended Go Flow v4 is $244.
- Users claim terrible customer support – some never receiving responses.
- To be brutally honest, the founder (co-founder?) Mike is a real d**k – just checkout some of his reddit posts (most of which have since been deleted).
- Focus’ “Go Flow” products are unnecessarily small, about the size of a quarter, very confusing and hard to use.
- Their latest product (Go Flow v4) can produce current levels reaching up to 4mA, which is incredibly unsafe and totally unacceptable. 2mA is the widely accepted max safe current level.
- In 2016 a scientific study entitled “Unfocus” on foc.us: commercial tDCS headset impairs working memory. found the Focus stimulator actually produced opposite effects from that which it was marketed to produce.
Omni Stimulator(kind of)
We struggle with this recommendation, however if your purse strings are stretched super tight, go with the Omni Stimulator. It’s a direct rip-off of the original “The Brain Stimulator”, which was a solid device (see ABC Nightline Video). We’ve heard from many individuals who are still using their original Brain Stimulators years later, and since the circuits look “ok” (Chinese assembly), this may be a good buy. Oh, but be wary of Omni’s customer reviews and sales tactics. Their “cash back” offer is merely a 5-star review solicitation, and the “free included software” is junk freely available over the internet.
IMPORTANT NOTE: The Omni device is only sold with “alligator clip” cables, which can cause burns/lesions if they touch skin. This antiquated cable connector was abandoned years ago in favor of the “banana plug” which provides a fully shielded connection. In addition, banana plugs are compatible with nearly every sponge electrode brand on the market. So if you pick up the Omni Stimulator just know you won’t have the luxury of swapping out electrodes
What we do NOT recommend:
- Apex Type A – General opinion: don’t buy it. Design is incredibly basic and lacking sufficient safety features. In addition to other concerns, the product is so simple you could make it from parts bought at Radio Shack.
- The Brain Driver – Community safety concerns
- Focus’s Go Flow v4 – Significant safety concerns
- Unbranded tDCS devices found on websites like eBay.