Things are not the way they used to be in the music-recognition department. Several years ago, identifying an anonymous song you heard on the radio required some serious work. The easiest way was to catch some of the lyrics and Google them, hoping you’ll find the right song. If you had no lyrics, you were pretty much doomed with that song in your head, until someone could recognize it from your own singing (musical talent permitting).
Today, there are better ways to do this which you can use the very minute you hear the song. These solutions are available for all platforms, from Tunatic and Audiggle for desktop, and Shazam and SoundHound for iOS, to a Google-powered widget/feature available for newer versions of Android. Many apps claim to identify songs quickly and accurately, but which actually do it?
I put five music-recognition apps for Android to the test, pitting them all against seven songs of varying difficulty, and one humming test, in which I tried humming a well-known song to each app to see if it could recognize it. Which app came put on top? Which app should you use next time you must know what song is playing? Read on to find out.
The apps I chose for this test are the most popular and highly-rated ones I could find on Google Play. They are:
Some of these music recognition app are more than just music-recognition apps, but for the purposes of this review, I ignored all other features and focused only on each app’s ability to recognize songs. If you’re looking for other features in your app, take a look at the apps’ pages on Google Play to see what other features they offer.
It’s worth noting, however, that mobion music is the only one in the bunch that requires an account in order to identify songs. Not only that, you must provide a full name, gender and date of birth when creating an account. If this is a problem for you, feel free to skip it entirely.
Walk Off The Earth – Somebody That I Used To Know
A little while back, this song was playing in my head while I slept. You couldn’t get away from it no matter where you were. The excitement may have died down a little, but this is still a fine specimen for a song I expect every app to easily recognize. It’s also a cover version, but in this case, the cover is arguably more famous than the original. So how did the apps fare?
Shazam: Recognized the song immediately, and displayed full song information along with album cover, Amazon download link and YouTube video link.
SoundHound: Recognized the song immediately, displayed full information including album name and cover, release date, lyrics lookup, and automatic YouTube search.
TrackID: Recognized the song, displayed correct name of song and artist, but a wrong album cover from “The Voice”. Included a download link for an actual local online music store (and in a country where there’s no iTunes, Amazon, or Google Music, that’s impressive), although the song wasn’t available there.
mobion music: Recognized the song quickly with right names, but presented the “The Voice” album cover. The cluttered interface included links to relevant YouTube videos, including the actual one I was listening to, and the original song my Gotye. Also included was an Amazon download link.
musiXmatch Lyrics Player: Recognized the song easily, and presented the right names, but with the “The Voice” album cover again. It also presented the song’s lyrics in a sing-along fashion.
Lucky by Radiohead – Six Feet Under Soundtrack
This song is yet another very famous one, but in a setting that’s a little harder to recognize. I used the video above, which is a scene from the TV show Six Feet Under, and let the apps listen to the part where the song is played. There are background noises of fire crackling, people talking, etc., which makes the song harder to hear.
Shazam: At first, the app had trouble with this one. After turning up the volume on my computer, it managed to recognize it, but not every time. When it did, it displayed the OK Computer album cover, as expected.
SoundHound: Recognized the song easily and quickly, with correct information and album cover.
TrackID: Recognized the song quickly, and displayed all the correct information about it.
mobion music: Took several seconds, but identified the song correctly. Its YouTube video links were not as spot on this time, though, leading to Lucky by Britney Spears and another song called Lucky by Jason Mraz & Colbie Caillat.
musiXmatch Lyrics Player: Identified the song, and displayed the correct information and sing-along lyrics.
Pomplamoose – Single Ladies (Beyonce Cover)
We’re getting into tougher territory now. While Single Ladies by Beyonce is a very famous song, the Pomplamoose cover is not at all as famous. To compare, the official Beyonce video for Single Ladies has over 200 million views, while the Pomplamoose version has around 9 million. Still respectable, but just not as well-known. Was it a match for any of the apps?
Shazam: Recognized the exact version of the song immediately, and included a cover to Pomplamoose’s album.
SoundHound: Took a little longer to identify the song, but managed to do so beautifully. It displayed the right names, but stated a wrong release date in 2013 (the video was uploaded in 2009). It also displayed an album cover I couldn’t recognize.
TrackID: Failed to identify this song, despite multiple tries.
mobion music: Failed to identify this song, despite multiple tries.
musiXmatch Lyrics Player: Failed to identify this song, despite multiple tries.
Roslin and Adama by Bear McCreary – Battlestar Galactica Soundtrack
Taking things up a notch, I pitched this instrumental piece from Battlestar Galactica to the apps, curious what they’ll make of it. To be honest, I didn’t expect any of the apps to identify this track successfully, so it was sort of my “sure to fail” test for this post.
Shazam: The app could not identify the piece, but it wouldn’t admit failure. It suggested three completely different tracks every time I tried it, including one Beethoven symphony.
SoundHound: Did slightly better, and recognized Bear McCreary as the artist and Battlestar Galactica as the source of the sountrack, but it still failed to recognize the actual piece, returning a different track called “Elegy” which is not very similar to the one I was listening to. Still, nice effort.
TrackID: After failing to recognize the Pomplamoose song, TrackID completely surprised me by identifying this track quickly and correctly. This included the right track name, artist, and even album and album cover.
mobion music: Again, a surprise. The app identified the track quickly, complete with album and album cover, and the right YouTube links to go with it.
musiXmatch Lyrics Player: By this point, I was no longer surprised when musiXmatch too managed to quickly identify the track and presented the correct names and album cover.
Don Omar – Hasta Que Salga El Sol
I must admit that I’ve never heard of this song prior to writing this post, but I was looking for a famous Spanish song to try the apps with, and this seemed to be it. In fact, it must be so famous, that all five apps recognized it immediately and all displayed right information about it, including album cover.
This showed me that the apps were indeed capable of identifying non-English songs, but this test was obviously too easy.
Sharon Haziz and Ivri Leader – Panasim (Flashlights)
I decided to make the test much harder. This is a song in Hebrew that was pretty successful when it came out, which was in 2001, a full 12 years ago. An app that can recognize this song correctly would probably do pretty well with non-English songs in general.
Shazam: Recognized the song immediately, displayed the correct song and artist names in English, and on my second try, even came up with an album cover. The links to YouTube were surprisingly relevant too.
SoundHound: Failed to recognize the song on multiple tries.
Track ID: The app managed to get me a song name in Hebrew, which was pretty impressive, but that’s all it managed to get. The artist field showed simply says “collection”, and none of the links it provided helped me along either. Were I using TrackID without knowing the song, just knowing the name might not have been enough.
The exact same thing happened with both mobion music and musiXmatch Lyrics Player. Both presented the correct song name in Hebrew, but no further information.
Humming test: Cryin’ by Aerosmith
Why Cryin’? I don’t know, it’s the first thing that came into my head. It’s famous enough and distinctive enough to be recognized by humming, though, and I can definitely keep a tune, if I may say so myself.
It’s worth noting that none of the apps except SoundHound even claim to work this way, so it’s not surprising that SoundHound was the only one that actually worked. I hummed the tune to all apps as best as I could, giving each of them multiple tries. The only one the returned any result was SoundHound, which gave me six options to choose from. One of them was indeed the right song.
Google Voice Recognition
You may be wondering why I haven’t tested Google’s own music-recognition abilities. Available as a widget for Android 4.0+ devices, and as a built-in Google Search feature in Android 4.2 devices, Google’s music recognition abilities are probably pretty good. Unfortunately, Google doesn’t think this feature is important enough to be available worldwide, so I wasn’t able to test it.
And The Winner Is…
When looking at overall performance, all five music recognition app performed pretty similarly. Some identified songs other failed to, but none of the apps identified every song on the list. When it comes to interface and usability, my favorite ones were Shazam, TrackID, and musiXmatch Lyrics Player. SoundHound, however, can help you even when the song is not playing, which is a big plus. So to sum it all up:
Overall best pick: Shazam
If you need humming recognition: SoundHound
For more obscure pieces, instrumentals and soundtracks: TrackID
For easiest access to lyrics: musiXmatch Lyrics Player
What’s your favorite app for identifying songs? Is there a really good one that should have been included but wasn’t? Tell us in the comments!