Finding out what song is playing nearby is a simple matter of opening an app on your smartphone – but which service is best? We put Shazam, SoundHound & MusicID to the test.
In 2011 we looked at two big names, Shazam and SoundHound. Last year, Yaara put five of these Android apps head-to-head to see which could identify the most songs correctly. With technology things change at lightning speed, and since then, Shazam has become almost a household name; it’s even going to be integrated into Siri as a new feature in iOS 8.
With this in mind, it’s time for a showdown. We’ve put Shazam up against two other music recognition apps in a multi-round battle to see which comes out on top. While this review focuses on the iOS apps, the results should remain the same regardless of platform.
Shazam, the reigning champion, has been around in its current form since 2008, when Apple launched the App Store. The concept hasn’t changed since we last covered it. Shazam uses a dead-simple interface: simply click the big blue button on the main screen to identify any music playing around you; this is called “tagging.” If you don’t have a data connection, Shazam will save your tag and attempt to identify it when you reconnect.
Once you have tagged a song you are able to view all sorts of information about it. You can play a sample of the song, which is useful for reviewing your tags later. An iTunes button will let you jump right to the store so you can purchase the song. Alternatively, if you have an account with Spotify, Rdio, or Beats Music and their respective apps installed, you can open the song (if available) using these apps.
Aside from purchasing music, you can also follow the lyrics in real-time, see related acts, read the artist bio and view their discography, share with others, and watch the song’s music video. There’s not much more you could do with a single track!
One quirk that kept popping up for me is that the album year seemed to be wrong on a couple of songs. Not a huge deal, but it was enough to notice the inaccuracy. It could be due to the fact that most songs are re-released multiple times on compilation albums and the like.
Shazam is a social service. You can see what your friends are listening to and view the most-tagged tracks if you sign in with Facebook, but it isn’t required.
Believe it or not, Shazam can identify more than just music and can tell you what TV show is playing in the background. This won’t be included in the test since other apps don’t have this function, but it’s a cool novelty. The usefulness seems fairly limited, as there’s lot more music in the world than TV series, but it’s there.
Rounding out Shazam’s feature set is the always-on listening feature, which you have to explicitly enable. When it’s on, Shazam will constantly listen to your surroundings even if the app is minimized, with tags appearing as notifications. Privacy-conscious users may be nervous about this feature, though the company has expressed their respect for privacy in response to the function. It only lasts for a few hours at a time before you need to re-enable it.
Shazam is available on a variety of platforms, including its brand new Mac app, which Matt recently took for a spin. You can also get the app for iPhone and iPad, Android, Windows Phone, and Windows 8. They’re all free to download and use as much as you like. Shazam Encore ($7) is the company’s advert-free product, but doesn’t include any extra features. Compared to the other apps on this list, the only feature it doesn’t boast is the ability to search by text.
SoundHound is another well-known music identification app. It offers a similar package to Shazam, so let’s quickly go over the differences.
SoundHound features the same type of homescreen with a big button used for identification. Like Shazam, if you’re offline and tag a song, it’s added to your pending searches to look up later. While Shazam does this automatically and sends you a notification, SoundHound requires you open the app and choose to identify it, which is a bit tedious.
After a song is tagged you’ll see a few options, but not as many as Shazam provides. You can play a sample of the track, listen to it with Rdio or Spotify, share it, follow the lyrics, or go to iTunes. Artist info, videos, and the albums that your song have appeared on are given, but you won’t find upcoming shows or related artists.
SoundHound is still great without these few features, but you don’t really need to see related artists immediately as you tag a track. The app also features top charts, and they’re essentially identical to those found in Shazam
In terms of unique features, SoundHound can identify songs that you hum or sing. Again, since the other two don’t allow for this, it won’t be included in the test, but it’s an interesting curiosity that you can show off to friends or use when you have a tune stuck in your head.
I hummed Johnny Cash’s “Ring Of Fire” and “Billie Jean” by Michael Jackson, which SoundHound got right. I didn’t want to embarrass myself by singing, so I tested that feature with a small-time YouTube acapella video, and it successfully identified the song.
If you just want to find out more about an artist or album, you can search for anything inside the app – great if you don’t want to sing or you only know the artist name. SoundHound provides live scrolling lyrics when you tag a song, and it also has the unique ability to show you lyrics for any song on your device. Simply open the app, start playing a track just like you would in your Music app, and you’ll see lyrics slide by on the screen.
SoundHound has a paid version called SoundHound Infinite ($7). This removes the adverts, but doesn’t provide anything else for your cash. Interestingly, SoundHound also has a third option, called Hound. It’s a stripped-down version of the main app; only allowing you to type or speak the names of artists, albums, or songs to find more information. It hasn’t been updated since 2011 and SoundHound includes the same functionality, so there’s little reason to bother with Hound.
MusicID is our final competitor, and it’s the least well-known of the three. It offers a similar suite of features to the others: a dead-simple main screen with a big button for identification, currently popular tracks, and the ability to review what you’ve tagged. MusicID also allows you to search by text, a feature that Shazam lacks.
After tagging a song you will see the standard options including related songs, YouTube videos, and the lyrics. Unlike Shazam and SoundHound, however, you won’t be able to follow the lyrics in real-time. You can listen to a sample of the tagged song, share it via social networks or messaging, and link to it on iTunes, but you won’t find any Spotify or Rdio integration in MusicID.
This app is the most lacklustre of the three. It has a cleaner look than SoundHound, but is missing features like real-time lyrics and integration with other streaming apps. There’s no paid version of MusicID, and its only other exclusive feature was spotted on what appears to be an outdated version of its website.
Apparently AT&T and Virgin Mobile customers can dial #43, hold their phone up to music and be texted the song information. Since I don’t have either of these carriers (and the service costs $1 a pop), I couldn’t test this feature and due to the site’s age it may not be supported anymore anyway.
MusicID simply does not function if you don’t have a data connection. You can’t save tags for later, so the app is essentially useless if you’re not online. This could be a problem if you’re in an area with no service, or if you have an iPod Touch or iPad you use for a special purpose.
Based on iOS apps alone, Shazam is a winner thanks to its sleek interface and the speed at which it identifies music. SoundHound is still solid; its only drawback is its slightly antiquated interface, but the singing and humming feature is a nice bonus. SoundHound is the best choice if you need text search, singing support, or you’re the hipster that doesn’t want to use Shazam.
I wouldn’t recommend MusicID at all, frankly. The complete absence of online support and lack of integration with streaming apps makes it the least attractive option. However, this test is about identification, so let’s put these apps through their paces.
To ensure fair testing, each app was put under the same conditions. All music was played from Spotify using my TV speakers at the same volume, and the iPod was left in the same position. I also started the tagging of each track at one minute running time.
Three rounds of two songs each were used to test the apps. It’s a piece of cake to identify mainstream pop songs you’d hear on the radio, so I started with a medium-difficulty tier, then cranked up the challenge, and finally used some extremely obscure music for the last round. May the best app win!
Round 1 – Medium
Track 1: Turkish Delight by 2nd Chapter of Acts on The Roar of Love (1980)
- Shazam: Identified the track in 5 seconds.
- SoundHound: Identified the track in 14 seconds.
- MusicID: Failed three attempts.
Track 2: Just Hangin’ Out by Damien Carter on Birdemic EP (2011) – a movie that’s so bad it’s good.
- Shazam: Identified the song in 11 seconds.
- SoundHound: Identified the song in 7 seconds.
- MusicID: Failed to identify the song within 3 attempts.
Shazam wins this round by a small margin of 5 seconds, but SoundHound still did well. MusicID couldn’t find either track – that’s not promising for the tougher rounds.
Round 2 – Hard
Track 3: Snakes & Hawks by The Hawks (Of Holy Rosary) on What Team Am I On? (2014)
- Shazam: Identified the song in 10 seconds.
- SoundHound: Identified the song in 13 seconds.
- MusicID: Failed to identify the track in 3 attempts.
Track 4: Farewell by My Cardboard Spaceship Adventure on Farewell (2012)
- Shazam: Failed all 3 attempts.
- SoundHound: Could not identify in 3 attempts.
- MusicID: Failed once again.
Both of these tracks had less than a thousand plays on Spotify, so I assumed they’d be tough to catch but not unheard of. One song wasn’t too bad, but the other was too much, apparently. MusicID didn’t get either once again.
Shazam wins the round by 3 seconds.
Round 3 – Extremely Obscure
For the final round, we want music out of left field to really push the apps. Since I’m not an expert in unheard-of music, I used Forgotify, a service that lets you listen to tracks on Spotify that have never been played before. Seeing as nobody has ever listened to these songs, they must be ambiguous. I took the first two tracks it gave, figuring that if they were in another language, that would just be a bonus.
Track 5: Gönlüm Nice Bir by Muazzez Abaci on Yasemen (1986)
- Shazam: Identified the song in 12 seconds.
- SoundHound: Identified the song in 13 seconds.
- MusicID: Failed after 3 attempts.
Track 6: Ayrilik Yine by Mustafa Üstünel on Sevgilim Almanyali (1988)
- Shazam: Identified the track in 12 seconds.
- SoundHound: Missed the first attempt, but successfully identified in 22 seconds the second time.
- MusicID: No surprise here: failure.
It’s odd; the songs that should be the hardest to spot were identified by both of the big contenders. That was a surprise to me. It’s evident that MusicID is trash, as it couldn’t identify a single song.
Shazam wins the round by a total of 11 seconds and one attempt.
The Winner: Shazam!
Though Shazam and SoundHound were nearly equal throughout the contest, the final track stumped SoundHound once, so it couldn’t be awarded a tie. Combined with the above commentary on the app itself, Shazam has rightfully earned its place as the music identification app you should have installed on your phone, as well as the one powering Siri in iOS 8.
Did these results surprise you? Which other obscure tracks could I have used? Do you use a different music ID app? Tell us in the comments!