August 11, 2012, 7:35 AM — When Apple finally opened up the iPhone to third-party apps in 2008, some of the earliest ones I downloaded were music identification apps. These apps can listen to ambient music and identify the song title and artist as well as provide other relevant info. Things have come a long way since then; more apps have joined the party and many of them have added tons of features. So with all the choices available in music ID apps, how can someone choose the best one? In my opinion, there are quite a few criteria to consider, but I think there are three important measures to consider.
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As luck seems to have it, when I want to identify a song, its either close to the songs end or Im at the supermarket where the music is constantly being interrupted by announcements. So I think its important that an app launches quickly, starts listening immediately and can name that tune within seconds. In my semi-scientific tests, Shazam Encore ($6, Shazam Entertainment) identified songs in the range of 2 to 10 seconds. SoundHound ($7, SoundHound) had a slightly slower average speed, but was more consistent with a 5-to-8 second range. MusicID with Lyrics ($1, Gravity Mobile) was the next in line with an average 13-second time, ranging anywhere from 6 to 20 seconds. At the bottom of the pack was MusicDNA ID (free, Bach Technology) with a range of 15 to 20 seconds. (Of course, your results may vary.)
(Note: I decided against rating the free Hound, also from SoundHound, in the top three categories because its the only app in this group that doesnt listen to music. Instead, you speak the song title or artists name and the app conducts the appropriate search. As a matter of comparison, though, it returned results to spoken queries in a fairly consistent 6-to-9 second range.)
It always seems like Im in a noisy environment whenever I want to ID a song, so I think the ability to filter out extraneous noise is important. Using a busy restaurant and a gym as testing grounds, SoundHound narrowly beat Shazam Encore for this title, with both returning results the majority of the time (but sometimes requiring two attempts). MusicID with Lyrics and MusicDNA ID rarely returned any results at all, no matter how many attempts I made.
Of course, you want an app that can identify the song title, artist and the album correctly. In most tests, every app seemed to do an acceptable job of identifying the song title and the artist but, in cases where there were multiple versions of a song, hitting on the correct album was another story. For example, only one of the apps I tested came close to correctly identifying the live version of Rushs Bastille Day that appears on the album Different Stages. All got the song title correct but Shazam Encore and SoundHound put it on Caress of Steel, which isnt a bad guess since thats the original album, while MusicID with Lyrics put the song on the compilation album Chronicles. To its credit, MusicDNA ID did name the correct album, but then displayed the wrong album art. In this case, although MusicDNA ID did get half of the album info correct, I feel that SoundHound wins this category because it provides a list of all the albums where an identified song appears.