Best TDCS devices of 2018: The top five devices to consider this year
Transcranial direct current stimulation (TDCS) serves as a tool that can potentially modulate the neural circuits in the brain. TDCS does this by increasing or lowering neurons' threshold for sending electrical impulses. By stimulating or inhibiting different regions of the brain, the hypothesis is that one can stimulate or inhibit specific neural circuits, and hypothetically strengthen or weaken those circuits over time. There is a growing body of evidence that supports the effectiveness of tDCS in various psychiatric and neurological disorders. In fact, the European Chapter of the International Federation of Clinical Neurophysiology released an article in 2017 that proposed Level B recommendations (probable efficacy) for tDCS use in chronic pain, major depressive disorder (non-drug resistant) and addiction/craving. There is also evidence to support effectiveness for cognitive enhancement in healthy people. Moreover, more recent literature suggests that tDCS may provide anti-inflammatory effects, in addition to the more commonly known effects on electrical enhancement/inhibition of neural circuits.
In the recent years, brain stimulation has gained popularity among people who desire to improve their memory and learning, or to self-treat for depression, insomnia, anxiety. The longterm implications of tDCS are unknown. Due to the potential for negative side effects if the incorrect parameters are used, organizations such as the International Federation of Clinical Neurophysiology (IFCN) and the Annals of Neurology have released statements against 'do-it-yourself' tDCS use. Hence, it is important to find someone who is knowledgeable and who can teach you how to use the tDCS device correctly. Nonetheless, many people continue to express an interest in it and partake in its use due to self-reported claims that using tDCS improves their mood, helps improve sleep, and/or enhances cognition.
If you decide to buy a tDCS device, the process may be overwhelming. In the recent years, there has been a plethora of new devices that have emerged on the market. None of these are FDA approved for medical treatment. However, some of them have been shown through recent studies to adversely affect cognition (i.e., foc.us tdcs).
Also, there are a multitude of proposed montages (manner of tDCS electrode placement) on the internet, and it may be confusing as to which one(s) are effective for what. Based on scientific literature, some of these montages produce reproducible favorable results. Some produce non-reproducible favorable results (which means there is not yet enough evidence to support these montages are effective). Other montages produce a lack of effect. And yet other montages produce potentially adverse cognitive results. Hence, it is important to find someone who is knowledgeable and who can teach you how to use the tDCS device correctly.
Please refer to our Neuromodulation page for more up-to-date information on transcranial stimulation and other noninvasive brain stimulation techniques.
We have sifted through all the tDCS devices that are currently available online, and have arrived at our 2018 review. Most of the FOLLOWING DEVICES HAVE BEEN ON THE MARKET LONGER THAN OTHER DEVICES SOLD ONLINE, AND ALSO HAVE STRONG REPUTATIONS. Also be sure to check out our neuromodulation page to stay up-to-date on neuromodulation technology.
POST UPDATE (June, 2018): After trialing the Caputron device recently, I am including the device in my updated review. Please note that the Caputron and the Apex Type A come in at a tie in my updated review.
1. tDCS ApeX Type A
Rating: 4.9 / 5.0 Cost: $169.99
Pros: For the quality, price and ease of use, this continues to take the number one spot in this review.
- The device kit comes with everything included (including two headbands, which improves stability of electrodes on the head) except for the batteries and saline (easy to make at home-instructions are provided).
- The built-in analog meter allows you to detect whether you have a good connection (and this delivering current through a complete circuit) -a feature not seen in many other devices.
- The current dial also allows you to decide how much current you desire and how quickly you want to ramp up the amperage - maximum amperage for this device is 2mA (which is the maximum current used in studies involved in tDCS).
- Customer service is fantastic and responsive.
- The 18V system is much more efficient than commonly available 9V systems that may be unable to reach stimulation levels adequately.
- May not be as portable as other devices, so it may limit your mobility while using it. I usually meditate or read during my 20 minute sessions, so that factor isn't much of a problem. However, it's light weight enough to carry around if you do need move occasionally (13 ounces).
- No timer
- Not FDA cleared
- Is a bit more expensive than some other cheaper tDCS devices. Nonetheless, I rate it high because it offers quality at a lower cost.
1. Caputron ActivaDose II tDCS Starter Kit
Rating: 4.9 / 5.0 Cost: $399.00
- This device is one of the only medical grade devices on the market that does not require a prescription. The device is FDA cleared for iontophoresis (not for tDCS purposes)
- Has a display that indicates dose, time and current
- Has an automatic current ramp-up and ramp-down that provides maximum comfort
- Battery life monitor, which informs user when battery needs replaced.
- Requires a single 9-volt battery
- Light weight and portable - device is one of the lightest on the market (0.53 lbs. (.24 kg))
- While the head strap initially felt a bit cumbersome and confusing, it holds measurement markers which can improve accuracy on stimulation location (for details on head strap use see: https://caputron.com/products/caputron-universal-strap)
- This device is one of the more expensive on the market. This is one of the only reasons why the device did not outperform the Apex Type A device on my review. However, keep in mind it is medical grade and has many features that other tDCS devices do not offer. Also, if you buy through their website and use the coupon code 'NEUROGAL' you can receive an 8% discount (link: https://caputron.com/products/activadose-ii-starter-kit?variant=5427241812030)
- Maximum current is 4 mA, which is double the maximum current deemed safe in tDCS studies (2 mA). Hence, there is potential for misuse if the user does not have experience. However, Caputron offers a separate device that is also FDA cleared whose maximum current limit is 2 mA - an option for those concerned about safety with the original device.
3. TheBrainDriver tDCS v2.1
Rating 4.7 / 5.0
- Pocket sized and portable for travel (12ounces).
- Easy to use.
- Comes as a kit, so everything you need is included (except for the saline)
- The smaller electrodes (2inch diameter) may theoretically concentrate the effects of the current applied to the brain region desired.
- Four Selectable Current Levels; 0.5mA, 1.0mA, 1.5mA, 2.0mA
- Timer included in the device (20 and 30 minute option)
- No meter to ensure adequate current connection.
- Only using one 9-V battery, so may have trouble reaching adequate stimulation levels.
- Only one headband is provided, which can make certain montage positions more difficult to maintain during sessions. However, you could always purchase additional tight headbands separately at your local pharmacy or online if needed.
4. The Omni Stimulator tDCS Device
Rating: 4.3 / 5.0
- Portable and light weight
- Cost effective - this device is the most affordable of all the devices on this review. The manufacturer also offers a money back guarantee in case you aren't happy with the results.
- Excellent customer service, with a 5 year warranty included with purchase
- Comes with a free "mind-enhancing vocabulary and memory-improving" software program, which some may find beneficial.
- Four Selectable Current Levels; 0.5mA, 1.0mA, 1.5mA, 2.0mA
- The listed cost above is variable based on the different websites selling it. The link provided to the right is to the ebay website, which currently sells the device for the lowest cost at $77. The Omni Stimulator product website has it listed at $169, with a current sale offer of $99.
- The device only uses one 9-V battery, so you may have trouble reaching adequate stimulation levels. Also, battery replacement requires the use of a screwdriver which may be more cumbersome.
Rating: 4.0 / 5.0
- This device is used in the clinical and research setting, and is approved in select countries for the treatment of chronic pain (including migraine and fibromyalgia) and depression.
- There are two separate devices meant for two separate conditions: depression or chronic pain. These devices differ in that the montages (electrode positions on the head) are fixed, thus minimizing the risk of improper placement.
- The device requires supervision by a physician, which minimizes the risk of improper use
- Light weight and portable
- Not yet approved for use in the United States or Canada. Approved for use in the European Union, Australia, Brazil, and Singapore.
- Requires a prescription
PLEASE NOTE: This article has no intention to posit tDCS as a 'cure all' panacea. Moreover, there can be serious flaws in certain studies and tDCS devices.
*Ratings are based on a 5-point scale and incorporate length of time on the market, quality of the device, cost, ease of use of the product, international availability, and customer reviews from various websites.
Disclaimer: The information and devices displayed on this site are not intended to treat, cure, or prevent any medical disease, and this article is not considered to be medical advice. If a reader decides to purchase and use a tDCS machine, it is his or her responsibility to use it correctly and safely and ensure that it works correctly.
Please note I received the caputron tdcs device as a complementary gift from the manufacturer. This did not influence my decision in including the device in the review, and I am not receiving profits from the company for purchases of the device.