SoundHound changes music search for Android

mainI like Shazam. It’s installed on the first day I begin using an Android device and the shortcut is always either on one of my home screens or in a folder on one of my home screens. And while it generally does a good (not great) job of identifying songs in real world situations, it can’t get them all. No big deal. When Shazam fails to tag, I listen closely to the lyrics for an uncommon combination of words that Google can use to bring me back a title and artist. But one method of song recognition that I’ve been wanting for some time is one that works by me simply humming or singing. As an Android user, I wasn’t aware that iPhone and iPad owners had access to a program called SoundHound that does just that: Records your best rendition of a popular song, compares it to a database, and hopefully, returns the title of the song you just attempted to recreate.

It sounds great, right? But how often does the app fail to match your performance with one in the correct key and without your horrible pitch problems? How does it handle tracks where the original recording is flooded with distorted guitars or bubbling synths? Can you bang out a rhythm with your hands on the table and just hum the bass line? Previous versions of SoundHound in the Apple App Store earned three stars after over 36,000 ratings and garnered mixed reviews – specifically on the hum/sing feature. The current version sits at four stars with over 1,500 ratings, so perhaps the developer has made some improvements that will be seen in the Android version, which launches today.

SoundHound is now available in the Android Market, and like the iPhone and iPad incarnations, there is a limited free version (only 5 tags are stored and you’ll get nagged after collecting those) and the full app for $4.99. I’m running SoundHound on a myTouch 3G Slide and I recently put it through the following paces (followed by the results) to test the hum/sing function:

1.) Jingle Bells, Sung: Success!


2.) Happy Birthday, Hummed: Success!


3.) Faith No More’s Epic, Sung with Table/Hand Percussion: Success!


4.) Nirvana’s Come as You Are, Sung: Success, with much better results than the other tracks, likely due to the song’s pop culture adoption. YouTube, lyrics, and Amazon MP3 links.


5.) Snoop Doggy Dogg’s Who Am I (What’s My Name?), Rapped…kind of: FAIL


Now, I don’t claim to be a professional singer, and that’s exactly the point here. I hope these results are useful in determining the kind of performance you can expect from the app in this capacity, but your experience will very likely vary. It’s not just your voice and timing at issue here; it’s the popularity of the songs you choose, how many times they’ve been recorded, and how noisy or cluttered the original recordings were, among other factors.

Other aspects of SoundHound we need to examine are the speed and accuracy of recorded music recognition. Can it beat Shazam in time or in the size and breadth of its database? I’m running three tests with both apps under the exact same conditions with the same sections of identical recordings to find out. It’s not just about algorhythms, here; it’s about the databases. Can SoundHound find a recorded match similar to a live Fugazi performance? Does Shazam know Mr. Bungle? I think testing two relatively obscure titles – one from a major label release with additional background noise, and one underground recording without additional noise are a good sample from the “alternative” music scene. And to represent mainstream music as a sort of control, I’ll test using a very well-known song with no additional background noise. This should give us a good, quick overview of how the two apps compare:

1.) Fugazi: Waiting Room (Live version on YouTube) No additional noise added.

SoundHound: Started hounding at :50. SoundHound gave up at 1:05 (15 seconds).

Shazam: Started tagging at :50. Shazam gave up at 1:08 (18 seconds).

Notes: I wasn’t really expecting much on this one. It’s noisy, live, and a fairly obscure song.

2.) Mr. Bungle: Quote, Unquote (Album version, played through iTunes) Somewhat noisy fan in room.

SoundHound: Started hounding at :45. SoundHound identified at :51 (6 seconds).

Shazam: Started tagging at :45. Shazam identified the title at 1:18 (33 seconds).

Notes: Nice work with the noise on a strange track for both apps, eh? But SoundHound blew Shazam away in speed.

3.) Frank Sinatra: Moon River (My Way – The Best of album, played with iTunes) No additional noise.

SoundHound: Started hounding at :05. SoundHound identified the track at :12 (7 seconds).

Shazam: Started tagging at :05. Shazam identified the track at :51 (46 seconds).

Notes: Pretty disappointed with Shazam here. My grandmother could identify the song much quicker.

On the recorded track recognition front, SoundHound kills Shazam. At least in my very quick test. It is faster, if not more knowledgeable.

One feature of Shazam I don’t like is that tags can’t be stored on the SD card or in some online account. When I wipe or switch phones, all of my past tags are lost. That makes it tough to build a wishlist from the songs you’ve discovered, which, to me, is the primary purpose of tagging in the first place. Unfortunately, the case seems to be the same with SoundHound. While there is an SH cache folder on my card, it doesn’t look like tags are being stored there. For 5 bucks, this feature is, to me, a no-brainer. Next version, maybe?

SoundHound did an excellent job of identifying both obscure and popular tracks from official recordings in quiet and noisy environments. Not only that, but it did so much, much faster than Shazam. In addition, I can just hum into my phone and SoundHound usually knows what I’m getting at. That is worth $4.99 to me, and I did upgrade the free version I was sent for testing. Based on the results above, I’ve just made the switch away from Shazam. With speech-to-text searching on the main screen, I’m already using the app in situations where Shazam doesn’t apply. If SoundHound devs give me a better way to store tags (besides suggesting that I Tweet all of them), I’ll be an ardent evangelist.

Press Release:

SoundHound’s instant music search and discovery application available with free and premium versions on Android
SAN JOSE, California – June 15, 2010 – SoundHound, the revolutionary sound search company, announced the launch of a new, free version of its popular mobile application on the Android Market. The free application offers unlimited voice and text searches, unlimited lyrics, and five free music recognition searches every month. The premium version of SoundHound, which offers unlimited music recognition searches, is now available in the Android Market as SoundHound Infinity.
“In response to the growing demand for SoundHound on the Android platform, we are enabling even more fans to experience instant music search and discovery,” said Keyvan Mohajer, CEO of SoundHound Inc.
The existing premium application that millions of music fans already enjoy is now called SoundHound Infinity – a nod to its unlimited search and discovery – and designated with the ∞ symbol. The free app inherits the SoundHound name; music fans needing more than five music recognition searches a month can easily follow the upgrade path that seamlessly links back to the Android Market where SoundHound Infinity can be downloaded. When the user upgrades, their bookmarks and song, artist, and lyric search history migrates from the free version into the premium version so they retain their SoundHound history.
SoundHound makes it easy and fast for fans to search, discover and share music. Features in both SoundHound and SoundHound Infinity include:
* Blazing fast music recognition. Fans can identify music playing from a speaker (radio, TV, films) in as little as four seconds.

* Sing & Hum music recognition. If the user can carry a tune, SoundHound can identify it.

* Voice-directed search. The fan simply speaks a Title or Artist to explore, and get results instantly, including links to video, discography, artist info and more.

* Instant sharing with integrated and customizable email and Twitter options.

* Lyrics, videos and other rich content.

* Buy links for easy purchase of songs and related content, including Amazon MP3

Both applications are available on the Android Market. SoundHound Infinity is available for an introductory price of $4.99. More information can be found on