Battle of the Beats: Shazam vs Soundhound

Capturing popular music and identifying it is a useful feature seen most commonly on mobile devices. But what about the experience on the iPad? Have the sound-sensing giants, Shazam and Soundhound, delivered a feature-rich experience? Is all that extra screen acreage put to good use?

Surely the approach on this platform should be slightly different, given the fact that you’re less likely to be carrying the device around as you would an iPhone? What provision is there for identifying music from other apps and exploring your own music library?

Let’s take a look!

First Look

Shazam for iPad offers a simple trio of options on its main screen:

  • The Tag list and Tag chart sidebar.
  • The mirror icon, middle, accesses its “Tag Stream”.
  • “Tap now” icon, top right, to identify music.

Shazam

As you try each feature, the help boxes are removed. Tagging a song sets Shazam listening for 10 seconds, and then a few seconds later a found match appears (assuming it was successful).

“Tagging” simply means to listen and identify what’s playing.

Four further options are now available for your identified song – iTunes download, Similar Tracks, Artist Releases, and an option for social networking sharing. Downloading is straightforward, and the Artist Releases option simply displays a discography for the artist.

You can also touch the floating blue play button to play a sample:

Exploring a song in Shazam.

Exploring a song in Shazam.

Exploring the Similar Tracks option is an easy way to expand your music collection with music that may be to your taste. You can even select a suggestion, and get similar tracks for that song, and so on, exploring indefinitely. As with all tags, you get to listen to the customary 30-second sample of the track.

Explore the Similar Tracks feature by repeatedly pressing ‘Similar Tracks’ for any of its suggestions.

Press on the mirror icon, top centre, and Shazam offers a stream of album covers, representing what others are tagging in realtime, which is great if you either recognise them or like the look, but you have to tap on each picture to see which song has been tagged. Another tap on the image, a blue tick flashes, and the song is added to your tag list:

Tag Stream example.

Tag Stream example.

Apart from a short biography option for the artist, Shazam’s iPad offering keeps it simple, slick and straightforward.

You Ain’t Nothing but a Hound…

Soundhound lives up to its name, hunting out many useful sound-related features, and this makes for a much busier, lively, opening screen:

Soundhound

Soundhound

Soundhound covers Shazam’s main functionality, but adds many additional features too:

  • Hum or whistle a tune to identify it.
  • Say the say the name of the song or artist for identification.
  • See lyrics for identified songs, or those in your library.
  • Play a YouTube related video in-app.
  • Listen on start – immediate tagging.
  • “All albums that have this song” feature.
  • Underrated songs (songs not getting radio play, but being tagged).
  • Play music from your own song library, with an in-app player.

The song library player is worth mentioning in more detail – it’s a small iPod-like player that plays your iTunes content directly in Soundhound.

Play any track from your library, touch the small arrow next to the player, and the main screen fills with the song’s lyrics. It even shows the album cover art as a faded background:

Built-in library player.

Built-in library player.

As well as sharing your recent music finds with your social circle, both apps allow you to see in real-time what other people are listening to and identifying.

Shazam does this by showing the relevant album art in a dramatic animated fashion. It’s a nice feature, but you have to tap the album art to see the song name and artist. Soundhound achieves the same result using a “just found” ticker at the base of the screen:

Soundhound ticker.

Soundhound ticker.

There’s more detail in Soundhound’s weekly “What’s Hot” results window, though, showing what’s getting hotter, colder and also tracks that you own. You can even play these immediately.

Soundhound trending.

Soundhound trending.

These features allow for a little more exploration of songs you hear from external sources, or other people, but what about other apps?

Eavesdropping in Style…

As opposed to just recording and finding the name of one song, these iPad apps are designed for you to sit down with and explore all the things you can do through the medium of audio sampling.

With this in mind, surely the most amazing sound-capturing feature to have on any platform is the ability to listen-in to audio from other applications, and identify what’s playing? Soundhound is alone in being able to identify audio from another app.

I’ve thrown all kinds of audio at it, from TuneIn Radio through to BBC iPlayer. It’s flawless, sometimes identifying clips within just a few seconds. This surely changes the game for all similar apps.

Soundhound’s ability to capture audio from other apps is a game-changer.

It’s a must-have feature, especially for the tablet form factor, where it may become the primary use. Try the same on Shazam, and the audio is muted to listen externally. You can’t even hum along to help Shazam. This seems to me a crucial mistake, and one that I hope the Shazam team correct in their next release.

Augmented Audio


Both apps go a long way to enhance the experience of exploring just-heard music. Basic biographies and discographies are just one aspect that both have covered. Soundhound goes the extra mile, though, with multiple identification choices, and a wide variety of ways to explore your audio.

As an introductory offer, Shazam has unlimited tagging, and Soundhound now also features unlimited tagging.

What sets these two apart, though, is the ‘sit and explore’ options. Lyrics, video, trending and that crucial eavesdropping on other apps makes, in my opinion, Soundhound an outright winner.


  • Jamie

    Have you seen this lab video testing the speed and accuracy of SoundHound vs. Shazam? Pretty much sums it up: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zGlsnEnKFoI&feature=channel_video_title

  • Phylarchus

    I am listening to a lot of classical music. I suppose the length and complexity of part of it makes Identification more difficult. As a matter of fact I have tried the suggested programs in some cases with no positive result. I would appreciate advice, thanks.

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