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, and MusicID to the test…
Unsurprisingly, Shazam is the service to beat here. It’s the king of music identification, as evidenced by its integration with Siri in iOS and macOS. Shazam is also the star of a new TV game show, Beat Shazam, where contestants must identify popular songs faster than Shazam.
With this in mind, it’s time for a showdown. Let’s take a brief look of each app and see what they offer. Then, we’ll compare their performance to see which app deserves a spot on your device…
Shazam, the reigning champion, has been around in its current form since 2008, when Apple launched the iOS App Store. The app uses a dead-simple interface: simply click the big blue button on the main screen to identify any music playing around you. Shazam calls this “tagging.” If you don’t have a data connection, Shazam will save your tag and attempt to identify it when you reconnect. You can also log into Shazam’s web portal to see all the songs you’ve tagged to date.
Once you tag a song, you can see its album art, number of times people have tagged it, and other basic information. Depending on your mobile platform, you’ll see links to listen to, buy, or start radio for the song from Google Play Music or iTunes.
You can share the track with others using applicable apps on your phone, listen with Spotify and other services, and even view the music videos and lyrics for popular tracks. Scroll down further, and you’ll find related tracks and even songs that artist has identified with Shazam.
If you like, you can connect your Shazam account with Facebook to see what your friends are Shazaming, but it’s not required. You can also link your Spotify account to add songs you Shazam to a playlist. Scroll over to the Discover tab, and Shazam will help you find new music. Here, you can also search for artists or songs by text and get a results page just like you had tagged them.
Shazam has also paired up with non-musical services. Certain TV commercials, at least in the USA, advertise additional information if you Shazam them. The service also has a picture-scanning feature, where you can scan special codes on billboards, magazines, and more. These unlock “exclusive content.”
Rounding out Shazam’s feature set is the Auto Shazam feature, which you enable by long-pressing on the Shazam button. When it’s on, Shazam will constantly listen to your surroundings even if you leave the app, with tags appearing as notifications. Privacy-conscious users may be nervous about this feature, and it also takes a toll on battery life. It is a neat feature though, especially if you want to tag several songs quickly without pulling out Shazam every time.
Shazam is free to use as much as you like, and even has apps for Apple Watch and Android Wear. You can also purchase Shazam Encore ($3), the ad-free version, but it doesn’t include any extra features.
After Shazam, SoundHound is the next best-known music identification app. It offers a similar package to Shazam, so let’s quickly go over the differences.
SoundHound has an ID button in the middle of its home screen, like Shazam. When you tag a song, you can play a short sample of it, star the track, share it, or add it to a Spotify playlist. You can also buy or stream the track on your device’s primary service. Scroll down, and you’ll see top songs by the artist, videos, and more.
Also 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.
Aside from identifying music, SoundHound also has a whole Play tab dedicated to playing music. When you ask it to play something, it will pull up the page for that song as if you had tagged it. You surely have a better app on your phone for listening to music, but this could be useful if you just want to hear a quick sample of a song to confirm you have the name right. The left tab, History, holds your past tags as well as the World Music Map which lets you see what people around the world are tagging with SoundHound.
Unlike Shazam, SoundHound has voice controls. Say OK, Hound and you can ask it to start tagging songs or play a certain track. This is fine, but not particularly useful unless you want to, say, tag a song hands-free in the car.
Another standout feature is SoundHound’s ability to detect singing and humming in addition to recorded music. If you can only remember the tune of a song but not the words, this is a fun little way to identify music. Similar to this, you can type an artist, album, or track to look it up without tagging it.
SoundHound has a paid version called SoundHound Infinity ($6 on Android, $7 on iOS). This removes the ads, but doesn’t provide anything else for your cash.
MusicID is our final competitor, and it’s the least popular of the three. It offers the basic suite of features: a clean main screen with a big button for identification, top tracks, and the ability to review what you’ve tagged.
Once you tag a song, you’ll see basic info about it, a share button, and a link to purchase it on Amazon. You can also add a comment to the tag, which helps you remember why you looked it up later.
MusicID also includes the standard related music and videos, but not much else, on its results page. Unlike other services, there’s no option to view lyrics, listen to the song on Spotify, or add it to a playlist.
Aside from tagging and viewing your past searches, MusicID offers a simple Explore tab. This lets you browse popular music, along with songs like those you’ve tagged. You can also search by text for other music. Pull up a song, and you’ll get the same results page you’d see if you tagged it normally.
MusicID offers barely any functionality when you don’t have a data connection. You can browse your past tags, but can’t capture a song and search for it later, so the app is essentially useless if you’re not online. Thus, this app is definitely the most lackluster of the three. It doesn’t have any ads, but is missing major features like lyrics and integration with other streaming apps. There’s no paid version of MusicID, but the app also hasn’t seen an update since March 2017 at the time of writing.
It’s no surprise Shazam is a winner here. It’s the king thanks to its sleek interface and the speed at which it identifies music. It packs just enough cool features that it’s useful without feeling overbearing.
SoundHound is still solid, if not as popular. Some of its features, like the voice control and “playlist” functionality, are of questionable value. but the singing and humming feature is a nice bonus. SoundHound does just enough differently to justify its existence. It’s a fine choice if you need the singing support, or you refuse to use Shazam for some reason.
— Shazam (@Shazam) November 1, 2017
We wouldn’t recommend MusicID at all, frankly. Its clean interface and lack of ads are nice, but the absence of offline 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.
Testing the Apps
We played five different songs from Spotify, starting at one minute into the track, and measured how long it took each service to recognize each song. This lets us compare their average performance.
To test their aptitude at different types of music, we used the following tracks:
- “Wolves” by Selena Gomez and Marshmello from Spotify’s Top 50 chart. This pop hit is from October 2017 and has nearly 25 million plays.
- “Who’s Left, Who’s Right” by Johnny Lee. This is a 2016 country song with under 4,000 plays.
- “Old Stories” by Alta View. This punk-rock song from June 2017 has under 2,000 plays.
- “Consolacao”, an instrumental bossa nova track from 1964 that has about 47,000 plays.
- “Now You Got Me Where You Want Me”, a 2007 funk song by JoJo Hammett. This track came from Forgotify, a service that plays music nobody has ever listened to on Spotify.
- “Wolves”: 3.14 seconds
- “Who’s Left, Who’s Right”: 11.03 seconds
- “Old Stories”: 11.72 seconds
- “Consolacao”: 10.96 seconds
- “Now You Got Me Where You Want Me”: 11.26 seconds
Shazam was the only one of the three services to identify every song. Its quickest recognition was “Wolves,” which only took 3.14 seconds. The most challenging song for Shazam was “Pressure,” taking 11.72 seconds. Yet Shazam’s slowest time was still faster than SoundHound’s best!
Constantly amazed at how fast Shazam is.
— Ozzie (@kirkbyo_) October 28, 2017
Across the five songs, Shazam took a total of 48.11 seconds to recognize them all, scoring an average time of 9.62 seconds.
- “Wolves”: 14.90 seconds
- “Who’s Left, Who’s Right”: Failed to identify
- “Old Stories”: Failed to identify
- “Consolacao”: 14.57 seconds
- “Now You Got Me Where You Want Me”: Failed to identify
We’ve surprised that SoundHound struggled so much. Not only did it fail to recognize three songs, it took the most time to do so.
SoundHound took a total of 29.47 seconds to identify the two tracks it did, with an average time of 14.74 seconds.
- “Wolves”: 5.03 seconds
- “Who’s Left, Who’s Right”: 8.95 seconds
- “Old Stories”: Failed to identify
- “Consolacao”: 6.23 seconds
- “Now You Got Me Where You Want Me”: Failed to identify
MusicID failed to identify two of the songs, but it was faster at identifying the other three than SoundHound and Shazam (aside from “Wolves”).
The Gracenote MusicID system sucks. 17CD box set and the meta data is unique to each CD. Even the artist name is inconsistent across disks.
— mark nichols ? (@zanshin) May 18, 2012
MusicID took a total of 20.21 seconds to identify three songs, with an average time of 6.74 seconds.
What’s the Best App?
SoundHound failed three songs and was the slowest, so it comes in a distant third. Though MusicID was faster, it did fail to identify two songs. Combined with its barebones feature set, we have to say that Shazam is still the best.
I think the best feeling is seeing someone Shazam a song you played in the car
— Samantha Figueroa (@samantha_figgz) October 30, 2017
A music identification app that can’t identify songs isn’t of much use, and Shazam scored perfectly in this test. It’s not always the fastest, but chances are it will find what you’re looking for. In fact, we were the first to Shazam the song from Forgotify — and it still identified it!
Do You Agree Shazam Is King?
Of course, a small sample like this doesn’t speak to the millions of songs you could try to identify with these apps. Perhaps you like classical music, and SoundHound could be better at identifying those songs than Shazam. Some of it depends on your preferences. But based on the apps’ overall appeal and power in identifying music, we think that Shazam deserves its place on the music identification throne.
For more testing, check out another detailed music ID comparison we performed.
Did these results surprise you? Which music ID app do you use, and why? Please tell us in the comments below!