April 12, 2013 at 5:28 pm

Best App for Identifying Music: Shazam, Soundhound, or MusixMatch?

Out of all the great things music apps do for us, music identification is one of the most helpful, not to mention amazing. No matter where you are, if you hear a song you like but don’t know, a click and some taps will usually solve your problem.

Fortunately — or unfortunately, depending on whether you’re a glass half empty or half full kind of person — you have a few to choose from. Which one is best at identifying music, especially in challenging environments, like a laundromat or a restaurant?

We resolved to find out with some rigorous, real-world testing.

music id appsThe Test

We restricted our experiment to apps from our top 5 list that identify songs based on how they sound. That list includes just three apps: Shazam, Soundhound, and musiXmatch.

Using the free versions of all three, on both iOS and Android, we tried to identify fifty songs under varied conditions.

We tried to get them to ID songs in various New York  and San Francisco locations including coffee shops, bars, restaurants, stores, and homes, to simulate the way the apps are typically used. The music included good old-fashioned American rock, pop, and hip hop, but also instrumentals and international songs, including a few in foreign languages.

We tested all three apps with each song, to maximize fairness.

The Findings

Based on the number of successful identifications, Shazam and Soundhound blew musiXmatch out of the water, correctly identifying nearly twice as many songs. Admittedly MusiXmatch is primarily a lyrics app with a music ID feature built-in, so this isn’t too surprising. MusiXmatch, we still love you (especially in Spotify).

So which is the best: Shazam or SoundHound? The short story: It’s a toss-up since they both performed well with more mainstream stuff, and when the music was much louder than the ambient noise, although things got more interesting when we challenged them with some truly tough examples.

music id

All three apps had mixed results with foreign-language and international music, so if that’s your bag, you’re not going to be too happy with any of them. At Jamaican restaurant Miss Lily’s in Manhattan, one of our testers tried to identify several reggae, ska, and dancehall songs on Radio Lily, the restaurant’s homespun internet radio station, which also plays there. Only Soundhound had any degree of success there, but it was only able to identify one song: “Everybody Needs Love” by Slim Smith. Another tester gave the apps a spin at her local laundromat, which plays Spanish radio station La Mega 97.9, but all three came up empty there.

Some international music fared better. All three called Italian band Equipe 84′s cover of “Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down),” while Shazam and Soundhound correctly identified Icelandic instrumentalist Ólafur Arnalds’ “Near Light.”

Mashups also presented difficulty. We tested Wait What’s “Juicy-r,” a mashup of Notorious B.I.G.’s “Juicy” and The xx’s “VCR,” in a few different places, to give the apps multiple tries. When testing a part where Notorious B.I.G.’s sample was dominant, all three apps identified the mashup as “Juicy.” In parts where The xx was more dominant, none of the apps identified the song. When we tried to ID a transitional sample of the mashup so that the apps could hear both songs, they picked “Juicy.”

Since these challenging examples did not help us determine a clear winner between Shazam and Soundhound, we looked for extraordinary performance by either app in other ways, so we went through the results looking for instances when only one app successfully identified the song, tallying how many times each one won.

The Verdict

We’re a little reluctant to draw hard and fast conclusions here, because the results were so close, and we couldn’t always test each app on the same exact song sample, due to the real-world nature of the tests. Changes in ambient noise (like a friend yelling in your ear) may have affected the results here and there. Still, there are some conclusions to be drawn.

Based on the sheer numbers, there was precious little difference between Shazam and Soundhound, the top two music identifying apps. Out of fifty attempts (again, we designed the test to be quite challenging overall), Shazam correctly identified twenty-seven songs, while Soundhound identified twenty-eight. On that level, your choice is basically a simple matter of which design you prefer, from a cosmetic standpoint.

However, in quiet settings — as reflected by the fact that all three apps were able to “hear” the song well enough to make an attempt — Soundhound edged out Shazam, indicating that it might have a bigger database when it comes to more obscure music. In noisy environments, Shazam proved the better option, indicating that it’s probably better at filtering out background noise.

If you want to cover all your bases in truly optimal fashion, install them both, and use Soundhound when the music stands out from the background noise, or Shazam if it’s noisy. And if you’re only going to use one, we’d probably recommend Shazam, because it’s a noisy world out there.

Basically, it’s a tie.

Download Shazam (Android, iPhone/iPod Touch, iPad, Windows Phone, Blackberry)

Download SoundHound (Android, iOS, Windows Phone)

Update: Massimo Ciociola, Chief Emotions Officer of MusiXmatch, responds as follows:

“1) People want recognition for getting lyrics. By simply recognizing the song people are not happy with this is the main reason mXm is blowing Soundhound and Shazam out of the water.

While people spend 30-40sec on on Shazam and Soundhound, they spend 3-4 min on musiXmatch.

2) We have a new version of music ID much faster and better

would love to run a benchmark ;-)”

  • Alex

    How about Sony mobile’s TrackId?

  • Kurt Windibank

    Sound Hound is available for BB10…and it rocks.

  • Quid

    This article only covers” good old-fashioned American rock, pop, and hip hop, but also instrumentals and international songs, including a few in foreign languages”, it does not speak for dance music at all. Ive had both Soundhound and Shazam and from experience, Shazam has tracked down almost every song that i ID at the club whilst Soundhound is pretty hopless in that category only able to identify the original track but not the remix. Shazam has also teamed up with Beatport making it the DJs/Dance Music Lovers choice for ID-ing tracks. Just my 0.02c

  • Nobody

    I can confirm that. On dance music and mixes of 2 dance numbers, soundhound is absolutly hopeless… I prefer it because it has a ‘ID now’ shortcut in android, but I find myself opening Shazam after Soundhound fails almost half of the times.

    So I think it depends on the music style.. Shazam can even identify remixes from original songs.

  • Kaal

    yepp..!! Totally agree.. Shazam more clever than SoundHound on dance/electronic genre

  • http://j.mp/dKozw4 Carlos Rivera

    And all three suck at classical music and minimalism.

  • Brain Tumor

    perfect for the generation that has the attention span of a house fly.

  • Musicl<3er

    i preferf shazam bcuz it is available on much more devices than soundhound

  • Anonymous

    In my previous experience, Shazam has identified more songs for me than Soundhoud. However, I just tried several songs that Shazam could not identify and Soundhound had no trouble with. So, I’m changing my opinion. Soundhound is my new first choice.

  • Mahesh Walatara

    SoundHound is much easier on the eyes. I love the orange color.

  • Luca Gore

    want a real test? try both during old mtv party zone megamixes. soundhound is worthless.

  • Mike Mounier

    Oh Gawwwwwd—

  • Mike Mounier

    Very scientific. And logical. Not.

  • Art Khachatrian

    A very valid point, but…
    Curiously enough, SoundHound / Midomi don’t (quite amazing, as my earlier attempts – some 2 to 3 years ago, I think, to ID some of my Baroque Music collection – I think I used either Shazam or SoundHound then, or both, had failed miserably) . I tested the app (and Midomi’s web interface) to ID a number of works (mostly Baroque and early Classical, as well as some chansons, poprock, etc.) – and had a ca. 95+ % success ratio.

    Of course, distinguishing between, say, Gustav Leonhardt’s and Christopher Hogwood’s renditions of a Harpsichord Concerto, or David Daniel’s and Chrisoph Dumaux’ performance of the same aria by SoundHound / Midomi may be rather unreliable (I haven’t tested that extensively), but the composer, the work played (incl. the movement) SoundHound (Midomi’s web interface was a hair more accurate) did identify correctly almost 100% of the time. That’s impressive!
    However, Shazam – I tested it again yesterday – is a different matter altogether: it failed to recognise anything I threw at it. I expect, most pop songs and the like might work, but it obviously isn’t intended for culturally more elevated musical connoisseurs.

  • Art Khachatrian

    Shazam, yes. Midomi and SoundHound are good enough for any generation. Tested!