Head-to-head: Shazam vs SoundHound

Want to know what’s that song on the radio, in the club or on TV? Thanks to the wonders of modern acoustic fingerprint technology, all you need to do is point your phone at the speakers and press a button. In order to do this, of course, you need an app installed on your device. But which one?

I’ve taken a look at the two principal candidates for iPhone, Shazam and SoundHound and put them through their paces to find out which one really knows the most about music.

The contenders

ShazamShazam has been the king of music identification services for more than ten years. Initially launched in the UK as a premium SMS service, Shazam has since been released as an app on numerous mobile platforms. It continues to top the Music section of the iTunes App Store charts, and its free version was listed as the fifth most popular free iPhone app of all time.

SoundHoundSoundHound is a social music search service, powered by a community-created database. Originally known as Midomi, the iPhone app isn’t as popular as Shazam – but that’s not to say it isn’t more effective. In contrast to Shazam, SoundHound claims to be able to recognize tunes that are hummed or sung.

 

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The study

In order to find out which is the best out of Shazam and SoundHound I would throw the same ten songs at each of them and see how they performed. My aim was to find out how many they matched, how quickly they returned results, and what additional content related to the song or artist they would offer me. I would also assess the search functionality, purchasing options and usability of each app.

The apps aren’t really designed to work with strummed chords or harmonized vocals, so I went with more traditional pop songs. the tracks I chose were the current number one billboard hit (Love the Way you Lie by Eminem), the number one hits from twenty, thirty, forty and fifty years ago, a track from an unsigned British electronic artist, a Spanish hip-hop track and a classical piano piece by Chopin.

I would also attempt to test SoundHound’s crowd-sourced audio database by singing The Village People’s YMCA, and humming along to Celine Dion’s My Heart Will Go On. I should note at this point that I am tone deaf.

 

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Matching

In terms of recognizing the audio tracks, both Shazam and SoundHound performed pretty well. Both apps managed to find matches for six out the eight songs played at them. Shazam failed to find Chopin’s Nocturne, while SoundHound returned no matches for the Macaco track after three attempts. Both missed out on Zoon Van Snook’s Bibliophone (a track, which is commercially available and appears on iTunes).

Matching

As far as the sing-a-longs went, SoundHound amazingly managed to interpret both my screeched version of YMCA and terrible, mumbled rendition of My Heart Will Go On (some might say it still kicked the the original’s ass). Shazam failed to recognize either of these songs. In fairness though, the app specifically states that it won’t match music that is hummed or sung.

Winner: SoundHound

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Time taken

When it came to the speed of returning music search results, SoundHound was the very clear winner. It returned every result in under 20 seconds (even those that were hummed or sung), with the quickest being a mere 9 seconds. Shazam took at least 20 seconds to find all of the songs, and labored for 30 seconds when looking for Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polkadot Bikini.

Time taken

 Winner: SoundHound

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Additional content

Both Shazam and SoundHound provide plenty of additional content related to a particular song. Where available, Shazam shows:

  • Artist biographies
  • Tour dates
  • A map of the location where you tagged the song
  • Discography of the artist
  • Lyrics
  • YouTube clips
  • Recommended songs relating to the one you tagged
  • Share via Twitter and Facebook

Results

SoundHound displays, where available:

  • Biographies
  • Other albums and tracks by that artist
  • Lyrics
  • YouTube clips
  • Similar artists
  • Tour dates
  • Song’s album appearances
  • Share via Email,Twitter, Facebook or SMS

It’s clear both apps offer the same kind of additional content, although there are a few differences. For instance, SoundHound doesn’t include location tagging, and the lyrics engine isn’t as good as Shazam’s (it often ‘cheats’ by returning a Google search page for the lyrics). However, the SoundHound app includes more sharing options, and allows you to listen to previews of other tracks by that performer.

Winner: Draw

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Purchasing options

Both apps contain links to buy the songs on iTunes, and there were few discrepancies between Shazam and SoundHound in this respect. In fact, of the songs the apps found, only one didn’t have a link to iTunes, in both cases.

Winner: Draw

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Searching

Shazam offers a full text search, allowing you to hunt for music by artist, track title or album. Results are returned quickly, and all but one of the songs we were looking for (Bibliophone) threw up perfect matches pretty quickly.

 

Searching

However, I’d argue that SoundHound’s text search is more powerful. Besides entering the artist, track or album, the app also gives you the option to search by lyrics, which is perfect if you have a song stuck in your head and don’t remember the name of it. Using the SoundHound text search we managed to find every song in our list, including the ones that the program didn’t find in the audio search. What’s more, SoundHound includes a voice search facility, which we used with a good level of accuracy.

Winner: SoundHound

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Usability

The final category measures the ease of use of each applications. I have to say, both Shazam and SoundHound are incredibly simple to get around. Both require just a single touch of the screen from the launch page in order to start analyzing a song. This is a critical timesaver if a song is on the radio and you want to search for it before it finishes playing.

 

Usability

The SoundHound user interface is arguably more attractive. It’s more colorful and there are less icons on the tab bar, making it feel a lot cleaner. Also, the  SoundHound app lets you perform text searches directly from the launch page, whereas you need to enter a separate menu to do this in Shazam.

In Shazam’s favor, it has a useful Car Mode, which allows you to find out what’s playing on your car radio when your iPhone is plugged into your in-car dock.

Winner: Draw

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Conclusion

The results of our test show that SoundHound is the best music recognition app for iPhone. The study proves that it’s faster and more accurate than Shazam, and that it has better search functionality. In terms of extra features, purchasing options and ease of use, there really isn’t much to choose between the two.

The price of the full versions of Shazam (known as Shazam Encore) and SoundHound are exactly the same, at $4.99 a piece. Both also offer free versions, which allow you to identify up to 5 songs per month.

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Appendix

Here are the results of the experiment for both Shazam and SoundHound:

Shazam

Song title Found? Time (secs) Biog Lyrics Videos Tour dates Buy
Love the Way you Lie

check_ok

21

check_ok

check_ok

check_no

check_no

check_ok

Vision of Love

check_ok

26

check_ok

check_ok

check_ok

check_ok

check_ok

Magic

check_ok

21

check_ok

check_ok

check_ok

check_ok

check_ok

Close to You

check_ok

25

check_ok

check_ok

check_ok

check_ok

check_ok

Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie…

check_ok

30

check_ok

check_ok

check_ok

check_ok

check_no

Bibliophone

check_no

N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A
Nocturne in E Minor

check_no

N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A
Incomunikaos

check_ok

21

check_ok

check_ok

check_ok

check_no

check_ok

YMCA (sung)

check_no

N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A
My Heart Will Go on (hummed)

check_no

N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A
TOTAL 6/10 Av: 24 100% 100% 83% 66% 83%

 

SoundHound

Song title Found? Time (secs) Biog Lyrics Videos Tour dates Buy
Love the Way you Lie

check_ok

14

check_ok

check_ok

check_ok

check_ok

check_ok

Vision of Love

check_ok

13

check_ok

check_ok

check_ok

check_no

check_ok

Magic

check_ok

9

check_ok

check_ok

check_ok

check_ok

check_ok

Close to You

check_ok

9

check_ok

check_ok

check_ok

check_no

check_ok

Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie…

check_ok

16

check_ok

check_ok

check_ok

check_no

check_no

Bibliophone

check_no

N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A
Nocturne in E Minor

check_ok

18

check_no

N/A

check_ok

check_no

check_ok

Incomunikaos

check_no

N/A

N/A

N/A

N/A

N/A

N/A

YMCA (sung)

check_ok

15

check_ok

check_ok

check_ok

check_no

check_ok

My Heart Will Go on (hummed)

check_ok

15

check_ok

check_ok

check_ok

check_ok

check_ok

TOTAL 8/10 Av: 13 87% 100% 100% 37% 87%

 

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