Bloodstream infections and antimicrobial resistance are an increasing problem in low-income countries. There is a clear need for adapted diagnostic tools. To address this need, we developed a simple, universal reader prototype that detects bacterial growth in blood culture bottles. Our "turbidimeter" evaluates bacterial growth, based on the turbidity of the broth and the color change of the colorimetric CO2 indicator in commercially available blood culture bottles. A total of 60 measurements were performed using 10 relevant microbial species, spiked in horse blood, to compare the turbidimeter's performance with that of an automatic reference system. The turbidimeter was able to detect growth in all but one of the spiked blood culture bottles. In the majority (7/10) of the species tested, time-to-detection of the turbidimeter was shown to be non-inferior to the reference automated time-to-detection. This was, however, only the case when both the turbidity and color change in the colorimetric CO2-indicator were used to evaluate growth. We could not demonstrate the non-inferiority of the turbidity measurement alone. Overall, the turbidimeter performed well, but we also identified some improvements that will be implemented in the next version of the prototype.