Shazam may be the face of music search and recognition apps, but it's not the only player in the game. SoundHound, an iPad app available in both free and premium versions (the latter costing £4.99), aims to give Shazam a run for its money by letting users discover content by matching a played song – or even a sung or hummed tune – against a deep database. It not only helps you identify an unlimited number of songs, but integrates music related tweets, lyrics, and YouTube clips as well.
You can jump right in and start using SoundHound without creating an account, which is a nice change of pace (you can optionally log into Facebook so that you can share links from within the app). Once the app had loaded, I was taken to the Charts screen, where I saw season-appropriate song snippets – such as Bruce Springsteen's "Santa Claus is Coming to Town" – in the Christmas Must Haves category. The song snippets, which are only a few seconds in length, give you just enough of a taste to see if you like the track enough to listen to the full version elsewhere (more on that in a moment).
SoundHound also integrates lyrics that cover the few seconds’ worth of the songs which are played. In the event that lyrics aren't available, SoundHound returns Google search results for the lyrics. That's a nice touch that I'd like to see other music apps implement.
The interface, however, is a bit busy. It could certainly use some streamlining. In fact, SoundHound's record button is tucked away – you need to first tap the home icon and then the big, orange SoundHound icon. Shazam, conversely, is ready for your audio input as soon as it finishes loading.
The SoundHound experience
SoundHound prompts you to open snippets in Rdio to hear the full tracks. I would've preferred enjoying tracks within SoundHound instead of via an external app, but the process worked smoothly. When I tapped the Rdio icon, for example, the app opened the "Tribute to Working Class Hero Bruce Springsteen, Vol 2," which had "Santa Claus is Coming to Town" highlighted. Touching the play icon caused the song to stream without any hiccups.
The same screen that prompted me to listen to the song via Rdio also featured YouTube clips of Bruce performing the track, a social networking box for firing off links via Facebook and Twitter (see the image to the right), and information on which albums the song appears in. If you want to get even more out of SoundHound, you can stump up a fiver for the premium SoundHound Infinity which adds links to Wikipedia entries and song recommendations. There's a lot to like here.
SoundHound's song recognition, however, is the heart of this app. SoundHound quickly identified four out of five songs that I played in my bedroom at high volume (including the likes of rap, rock, and classic soul). It didn't fare quite as well when colleagues and I hummed or sang tunes.
When a colleague hummed "I Wish You a Merry Christmas," SoundHound returned Carly Rae Jepsen's "Call Me Maybe" as one of the search results. When another colleague hummed Tori Amos' "God," SoundHound identified Justin Bieber's "Never Say Never" as one of the suggested possible tracks. On the other hand, SoundHound recognised "White Christmas" and other Xmas classics. It appears that either our humming isn't up to scratch, or SoundHound needs some work in that area.
And finally, I like the fact that SoundHound saves your search history so you can pull up a song name again should you forget it after the initial search. Also, song results feature links to iTunes pages where you can buy songs – in theory – but every time I tried to make a purchase, I got an invalid address notification.
SoundHound does a very good job of sniffing out the names of recorded songs you wish to identify in a jiffy, but it has a little way to go before it catches up with Shazam’s more complete package. There are issues with purchasing tracks and the app’s humming identification needs some work, but SoundHound is free and worth downloading if you're looking for an iPad music search tool that dares to be different.