tDCS Device Comparison Guide by Caputron

tDCS Overview

Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation (tDCS) is a non-invasive procedure in which a device sends a small Direct Current (DC) across the scalp to modulate brain function. Conventional tDCS devices will consist of a positive anode and negative cathode. When the low level current enters through the anode, the stimulation causes an excitation in neuronal activity. Conversely, when the current exits through the cathode, the stimulation causes a reduction in neuronal activity. Knowing this, anodal and cathodal stimulation, can be used in various applications to alter the neural activity of the brain. Since anodal stimulation causes an excitation in neuronal activity, it can be used to potentially enhance the area of the brain being targeted. Alternatively, as cathodal stimulation causes an inhibition of neuronal activity, it can be used to potentially decrease activity in the brain resulting from the hyper-activity associated with certain psychological disorders.

What is important in a tDCS device (including electrodes and headgear)

Most people who want to use tDCS for research, treatment or performance enhancement want to reproduce a tDCS protocol that has been studied and published in a scientific paper. These include several popular approaches such as bi-frontal stimulation (for mood and attention), motor stimulation (for motor learning and pain control) and the so-called DARPA montage (for learning and vigilance). Though there are many variations in “dosage” used (how much current, time, number of sessions), the idea is always reproducibility; reproducing what was done before not only from the perspective of efficacy (outcomes) but also tolerability (safety, how things feels). The right device, along with the correct electrodes and headgear, are critical for reproducibility. It is a mistake to assume that any device that provides stimulation is acceptable. With this in mind, Caputron has created the table below help guide you through the important features on the select devices we carry to provide you the best options for reproducibility and value. Caputron kits are designed to make sure you get a complete system designed to work together. You can also see our electrode guide for what is important regarding electrodes.

Consumer vs Medical / Research tDCS Devices

Disclaimer: The information provided here is not medical or legal advice. It is not an endorsement of any device, application or use. It is based entirely on information in the listed publications and information from manufacture websites.

What is consumer tDCS? Consumer tDCS devices are marketed directly towards users. They can be marketed simply as “tDCS” or for cognitive enhancement or for performance enhancement. They cannot be marketed for medical use, such as the treatment of a disease, since then they be classified as medical devices. Once a consumer obtains a tDCS device, they can use their device for for any application. Consumer devices are cheaper then medical / research grade devices. The FDA has provided letters to companies like Thync and Halo; allowing them to market tDCS for consumer purposes without making claims on medical therapy.

What are the standards for Consumer tDCS? The quality of consumer tDCS devices varies. At the high end, devices such as Halo, Thync and ActivaDose are produced to the same standards as medical devices, they are just not cleared by the government for medical use and are not marketed by the companies for medical use. These products likely meet the “LOTUS” guidelines. On the other extreme, there may be products that are not carefully designed or built. Poor design can mean things like not producing the correct output. Poor build simply means that products may be sent out with defects.

What is research grade tDCS? Research tDCS devices are those marketed for use in clinical trials. Research devices used in clinical trials must see the same design and manufacturing standards as clinical tDCS devices. This means, according to regulations in the US, Europe and other countries, devices tested on people need to be built to medical devices standards, even when they are not yet approved for use. For this reason, clinical and research grade tDCS devices are the same thing as far the devices themselves. The difference is simply how they are marketed. For example, the Soterix Medical 1x1 tDCS is marketed in the US for research but is approved and marketed in Europe for the treatment of depression, pain (migraine, fibromyalgia) and stroke rehabilitation.

What are the standards for Research and Medical grade tDCS? The standards that govern research and medical grade tDCS in the US are called FDA Quality Systems which rely on the rules by the IEEE organization. The comparable standards in Europe are part of the CE mark and relies on rules set by the IEC organization. But since the IEEE and IEC are almost identical, medical / research grade tDCS products usually meet standards across the US, Europe and other countries.

What is the difference in cost? Consumer devices range from about $80 to $500. Medical and research devices range from $300 to about $5000 for top brand to over $10,000 for the more advanced High-Definition systems.

What about iontophoresis devices? An iontophoresis devices is cleared by the FDA or another country for the use of direct current stimulation to deliver ions or drugs to the body. When used without drugs, the delivery of ions is for all practical purposes the same thing as tDCS. The use of an iontophoresis device for tDCS treatment would be “off-label”.

What is HD-tDCS? HD-tDCS stands for High Definition transcranial Direct Current Stimulation. Regular tDCS uses relatively large electrodes (about 5x5 cm) while HD-tDCS uses relatively small electrodes (about 1x1 cm) which are gel filled. HD-tDCS is found only on Research / Clinical grade devices. HD-tDCS can be used with EEG to record brain activity.

Can the same device be a consumer and medical / research grade tDCS device? This can be complicated, but yes. The Thync device and the Fisher Wallace devices, neither of which are basic tDCS, have separate websites for consumer and medical use, but it's the identical device. Medical and research tDCS devices cannot be sold to consumers, though they can be provided via a medical care-giver. Bottom line, the devices listed below as Consumer can be bought by anyone, whereas the ones listed under Medical / Research can only be bought by medical care-givers or researchers.

Consumer tDCS Device Comparison Table - (Last Updated 12/11/17)

Device Cost Maximum Output Voltage Timer Automatic Ramp Up/Down Display Low Battery Indicator Sham Supported Montages Dimensions
Actvidose II tDCS Device Starter Kit Activadose II for tDCS $399.00 - Includes Caputron tDCS Starter Kit 80 volts
or
29 volts
Yes Yes Intensity and Duration Yes No Conventional tDCS, depends on head-gear/electrodes 6.1" x 3.5" x 1.9"
Weight: 6.4 Ounces
Foc.us V2 tDCS Device foc.us
V2 Stimulator
$329.00 - Includes Device and Charging Dock 60 volts Yes Yes Intensity and Duration Yes Yes tDCS, tACS, tPCS, tRNS 2.4" x 1" x .5"
Foc.us Go Flow Pro tDCS Device foc.us
Go Flow Pro
Includes tDCS Starter Kit
$99 w/ Headband
$129 w/ Sports Cap
25 volts Yes Yes Intensity and Duration Yes No Conventional tDCS, depends on head-gear/electrodes 1.06" x 1.02" x .65"
Weight: 3 Ounces
Thync Thync
Note:Thync is not traditional tDCS but modulated tDCS
$249.00 - Includes Thync Starter Kit XXX volts Yes Yes App Controlled Display Yes No Calm or Energy 3" x 1.5" x .4"
Super Specific tDCS Device v5.0 12V Analog Super Specific tDCS Device v5.0
12V Analog
$125.00 - Includes Caputron Starter Kit 12 volts No No Analog Ammeter No No Conventional tDCS, depends on head-gear/electrodes. 12 volts limits tDCS montage. 5.25" x 1.75" x 2.75"
Weight: 7.4 Ounces
Super Specific tDCS Device v5.0 12-24 Selectable Voltage Analog Super Specific tDCS Device v5.0
12/24V Selectable Voltage Analog
$145.00 - Includes Caputron Starter Kit Selectable 12 and 24 volts No No Analog Ammeter No No Conventional tDCS, depends on head-gear/electrodes 5.25" x 1.75" x 2.75"
Weight: 7.4 Ounces
Apex 18V tDCS Device Type A Apex tDCS Device
Type A - 18V
$149.99 - Includes Apex Starter Kit 9 volts No No Analog Ammeter No No Conventional tDCS, depends on head-gear/electrodes 6" x 3.75" x 2"
Weight: 13 Ounces
BrainDriver tDCS Device BrainDriver tDCS
V2.1
$149.99 - Includes BrainDriver Starter Kit XX volts Yes Yes Intensity and Duration Yes No Conventional tDCS, depends on head-gear/electrodes 5.5" x 3" x 1"
Weight: 6 oz.
tDCS Ultra tDCS Device tDCS Ultra $249.00 - Includes Caputron Starter Kit 40 volts Yes Yes Intensity and Duration Selection Yes Available Upon Request Conventional tDCS, depends on head-gear/electrodes 4.74" x 3" x .85"
Weight: 5 Ounces
The Brain Stimulator tDCS Device Model V3 The Brain Stimulator
Model v3.0
$129.95 - Device Only 12 volts Only 30 min option No Intensity Selection Yes No Conventional tDCS, depends on head-gear/electrodes. 12 volts limits tDCS montage. TBD
The Brain Stimulator Travel Model tDCS Device The Brain Stimulator
Travel Model v2.0
$87.95 - Device Only 9 volts No No Intensity Selection Yes No Conventional tDCS, depends on head-gear/electrodes. 9 volts limits tDCS montage. 6.1" x 3.1" x 2"
Transcranial Technologies (TCT) tDCS Device TCT $349.00 - Includes TCT Stater Kit 28 volts Yes Yes Time and Intensity Yes Available in Research Model Conventional tDCS, depends on head-gear/electrodes 5.5" x 4.5" x 1.4"
Weight: 12.3 Ounces
Chattanooga tDCS Device Starter Kit Chattanooga
(Discontinued by Manufacturer)
$400.00 - Includes Caputron Advanced Starter Kit 80 volts Yes Yes Intensity and Duration Yes No Conventional tDCS, depends on head-gear/electrodes 3.5" x 2.4" x.79"
Weight: 2.7 Ounces
Super Specific tDCS Device 12V Analog Super Specific Device
12V Analog
Replaced by New Version
$125.00 - Includes Caputron Starter Kit 12 volts No No Analog Ammeter No No Conventional tDCS, depends on head-gear/electrodes. 12 volts limits tDCS montage. 5.25" x 1.75" x 2.75"
Weight: 7.4 Ounces
Super Specific tDCS Device 12-24 Selectable Voltage Analog Super Specific Device
12/24V Selectable Voltage Analog
Replaced by New Version
$145.00 - Includes Caputron Starter Kit Selectable 12 and 24 volts No No Analog Ammeter No No Conventional tDCS, depends on head-gear/electrodes 5.25" x 1.75" x 2.75"
Weight: 7.4 Ounces
Apex 9V tDCS Device Type A Apex tDCS Device
Type A - 9V
Replaced by New Version
$139.99- Includes Apex Starter Kit 9 volts No No Analog Ammeter No No Conventional tDCS, depends on head-gear/electrodes 6" x 3.75" x 2"
Weight: 13 Ounces
The Brain Stmulator Basic Model tDCS Device The Brain Stimulator
Basic Model
Replaced by New Version
$90.00 - Device Only 9 volts No No None No No Conventional tDCS, depends on head-gear/electrodes. 9 volts limits tDCS montage. 5.5"x 3.5"x 3"

Research tDCS Device Comparison Table - (Last Updated 2/8/18)

All research grade systems have timers, automatic ramp up/down, continuous impedenance monitoring, low battery indicator and are IEC 60601 safety and EMC compliant.

Device Maximum Output Voltage Output Current Adjustable Current Increment Max Timer Duration Output Current Monitoring Sham # Stimulation Channels Bi-channel Stimulation EEG Compatible # EEG Channels Programming Software MRI Compatible Trigger Regulatory (FDA,CE,International)
Soterix Medical 1X1 tDCS 40 V 0 - 2 mA 100 µA 40 min Yes Single/Double Blind 1 Yes* Yes** 8 - 64 No Yes # Optional CE,International
Soterix Medical 1X1 tDCS-LTE 20 V 0 - 1.5 mA 100 µA 20 min Yes Single/Double Blind 1 Yes* Yes** 8 - 64 No Yes # Optional CE,International
Soterix Medical 1X1 tES 0 - 2 mA 10 µA (across all waveforms) 40 min Yes Single/Double Blind 1 Yes* Yes** 8 - 64 No Yes # Yes CE,International
Soterix Medical 1X1 Clinical Trials 20 V Customizable N/A Customizable N/A Triple Blind 1 Yes* Yes** 8 - 64 No Yes # Optional CE,International
Activadose II 80 V 0 - 4 mA 100 µA 40 min Yes No 1 No No FDA
Neurocare DC-STIMULATOR ? 0 - 2 mA 250 µA 30 min No Yes 1 No 32 No Yes # Yes CE,International
Neurocare DC-STIMULATOR PLUS ? 0 - 4.5 mA 25 µA (sine) 30 min No Yes 1 No 32 No Yes # Yes CE,International
Newronika / HDCkit (HDCprog +HDCstim) 28 V 0.5- 1.5 mA 1 µA 20 min No Yes 1 No No Yes*** No Yes CE
E.M.S BrainSTIM 24 V 0.1- 5 mA 100 µA 60 min No Yes 1 No No Yes*** No Yes CE
Soterix Medical IontoDC 40 V 1- 2 mA 250 µA 40 min Yes No 1 No No No No No No FDA
Soterix Medical 4X1 30 V 0- 2 mA 100 µA 40 min Yes Yes 5 N/A Yes 8 - 256 No Yes# Yes CE,International
Soterix Medical MxN 30 V 0- 2.5 mA 10 µA (across all waveforms) 40 / 60 min Yes Yes 5, 9, 32 Yes 8 - 256 No Yes# Yes CE,International
Neuroelectrics STARSTIM 8 30 V 0- 2 mA 1 µA 60 min No Yes 8 Yes 8 Yes*** Yes# ? CE
Neuroelectrics / STARSTIM tCS 30 V 0- 2 mA 1 µA 60 min No Yes 8 No None Yes*** Yes# ? CE
  • * - with breakout box
  • ** -with separate connector cable
  • *** -stimulator settings transferred via BT through software installed on PC/MAC
  • # - separate accessory

References

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A pragmatic analysis of the regulation of consumer transcranial direct current stimulation(TDCS) devices in the United States. Wexler A. J Law Biosci. 2015 Oct 12;2(3):669-696. eCollection 2015 Nov. PMID: 27774217

The off-label use, utility and potential value of tDCS in the clinical care of particular neuropsychiatric conditions. Bikson M, Paneri B, Giordano J. J Law Biosci. 2016 Sep 10;3(3):642-646. doi: 10.1093/jlb/lsw044. eCollection 2016 Dec. No abstract available. PMID: 28852542

Low intensity transcranial electric stimulation: Safety, ethical, legal regulatory and application guidelines. Antal A, Alekseichuk I, Bikson M, Brockmöller J, Brunoni AR, Chen R, Cohen LG, Dowthwaite G, Ellrich J, Flöel A, Fregni F, George MS, Hamilton R, Haueisen J, Herrmann CS, Hummel FC, Lefaucheur JP, Liebetanz D, Loo CK, McCaig CD, Miniussi C, Miranda PC, Moliadze V, Nitsche MA, Nowak R, Padberg F, Pascual-Leone A, Poppendieck W, Priori A, Rossi S, Rossini PM, Rothwell J, Rueger MA, Ruffini G, Schellhorn K, Siebner HR, Ugawa Y, Wexler A, Ziemann U, Hallett M, Paulus W. Clin Neurophysiol. 2017 Sep;128(9):1774-1809. doi: 10.1016/j.clinph.2017.06.001. Epub 2017 Jun 19. Review. PMID: 28709880

Safety of Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation: Evidence Based Update 2016. Bikson M, Grossman P, Thomas C, Zannou AL, Jiang J, Adnan T, Mourdoukoutas AP, Kronberg G, Truong D, Boggio P, Brunoni AR, Charvet L, Fregni F, Fritsch B, Gillick B, Hamilton RH, Hampstead BM, Jankord R, Kirton A, Knotkova H, Liebetanz D, Liu A, Loo C, Nitsche MA, Reis J, Richardson JD, Rotenberg A, Turkeltaub PE, Woods AJ. Brain Stimul. 2016 Sep-Oct;9(5):641-61. doi: 10.1016/j.brs.2016.06.004. Epub 2016 Jun 15. Review. PMID: 27372845

Outstanding questions concerning the regulation of cognitive enhancement devices. De Ridder D, Vanneste S, Focquaert F. J Law Biosci. 2014 Sep 19;1(3):316-321. eCollection 2014 Sep. PMID: 27774170

Early adopters of the magical thinking cap: a study on do-it-yourself (DIY) transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) user community. Jwa A. J Law Biosci. 2015 Jun 2;2(2):292-335. eCollection 2015 Jul. PMID: 2777419

A technical guide to tDCS, and related non-invasive brain stimulation tools. Woods AJ, Antal A, Bikson M, Boggio PS, Brunoni AR, Celnik P, Cohen LG, Fregni F, Herrmann CS, Kappenman ES, Knotkova H, Liebetanz D, Miniussi C, Miranda PC, Paulus W, Priori A, Reato D, Stagg C, Wenderoth N, Nitsche MA. Clin Neurophysiol. 2016 Feb;127(2):1031-1048. doi: 10.1016/j.clinph.2015.11.012. Epub 2015 Nov 22. Review. PMID: 26652115

Noninvasive techniques for probing neurocircuitry and treating illness: vagus nerve stimulation(VNS), transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) and transcranial direct current stimulation(tDCS). George MS, Aston-Jones G. Neuropsychopharmacology. 2010 Jan;35(1):301-16. doi: 10.1038/npp.2009.87. Review. PMID: 19693003

Regulatory Considerations for the Clinical and Research Use of Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation (tDCS): review and recommendations from an expert panel. Fregni F, Nitsche MA, Loo CK, Brunoni AR, Marangolo P, Leite J, Carvalho S, Bolognini N, Caumo W, Paik NJ, Simis M, Ueda K, Ekhitari H, Luu P, Tucker DM, Tyler WJ, Brunelin J, Datta A, Juan CH, Venkatasubramanian G, Boggio PS, Bikson M. Clin Res Regul Aff. 2015 Mar 1;32(1):22-35. PMID: 25983531