Remember all those years ago when you used to hear a song that you liked in a store, at a bar, on the radio, and you wished you knew what it was called or who it was by? You’d rush home and try to remember the lyrics so you could punch it into Google and hope for the best.

Well those days are well over thanks to discovery apps such as Shazam and Soundhound that listen to the song that’s playing and send it to their servers to be matched with the song name and artist. It’s pretty incredible technology if you think about it, and we find ourselves using one of these apps at least once a week.

But which app is the fastest and has the bigger collection of songs in their database? We took the two most popular apps, Shazam and Soundhound for a test spin on the iPhone and the iPad to find out who would come up trumps.

Firstly, both apps launch straight into a screen with a big button that you tap to start the recording. We found the Soundhound app to be more responsive on the older iPhone than Shazam for some reason, and in the spur of the moment this may be the difference between correctly identifying the song and missing it altogether. Both worked fine on the iPad.

The other major difference in the recognition, or tagging as both apps call it, is that Soundhound appears to send the song recording as it is happening to their servers to be matched, whereas Shazam records 10 seconds of the song and only then sends it to the server. In effect this means that Soundhound can return the song result up to twice as fast as Shazam can, although you can force Shazam to send a smaller sample if you wish.

We tested 6 songs on both apps, we picked an older song, a newer popular song, and a few local Australian bands to see how they fared. You can see the differences in the results below, obviously this isn’t scientific but should give you a good idea of how they compare.

Soundhound Time to Identify
Black Hole Sun – Soundgarden: 13 seconds
Party Rock Anthem – LMFAO: 4 seconds
The Fearless Vampire Killers – For You & Me: Couldn’t Identify
Children Collide – Jellylegs: 6 seconds
Gotye – Somebody That I Used To Know: 5 seconds
Boy & Bear – Part Time Believer: 5 seconds

Shazam Time to Identify
Black Hole Sun – Soundgarden: 15 seconds
Party Rock Anthem – LMFAO: 12 seconds
The Fearless Vampire Killers – For You & Me: 15 seconds
Children Collide – Jellylegs: 18 seconds
Gotye – Somebody That I Used To Know: 14 seconds
Boy & Bear – Part Time Believer: 14 seconds

When you take into account that Shazam takes a full 10 seconds of recording before it sends it to the server it is no wonder that some of the times are almost double that of Soundhound. To compensate for this we tried interrupting Shazam multiple times to get it to match Soundhound but each time it failed to identify the song. Thankfully however neither of the apps had a false positive during any part of the roadtest.

Both apps offer a large number of features to add to the simple tagging mechanism, such as lyrics and related artists but again each app had its own pros and cons.

The LMFAO track for instance on Shazam had the correct lyrics, and a good selection of related artists, but the Youtube it offered us was broken and it missed out a large number of releases that feature the song ‘Party Rock Anthem’. By comparison, Soundhound found the correct lyrics, multiple related Youtube videos including live performances by the group, and the correct tour dates including those in Australia currently for Stereosonic. The related artists however were a bit on the thin side.

The biggest advantage Soundhound had over Shazam though was that it was able to bring up every single and album that LMFAO have released thanks to their integration with the iTunes Store. This also allowed us to preview LMFAO’s entire catalogue without leaving the app which we thought was a nice touch. Shazam has also tried to implement a similar integration but theirs is primitive by comparison.

We did wonder how well Soundhound would do with a more local artist with their extra features, so we loaded Gotye back up and while it had the correct tour dates and previews of Gotye’s entire catalogue it wasn’t able to find any similar artists and clicking the lyrics button simply took us to a Google search.

With Shazam we chose The Fearless Vampire Killers as the local to test, and although it couldn’t find any lyrics it did bring up an impressive list of related artists such as Kisschasy, Trial Kennedy, Eddy Current Suppression Ring, and Jebediah. The Youtube also brought up a good high quality video of the band performing the song but the biggest limitation here is that Shazam only offers you one clip, versus Soundhound that offered us over a dozen.

We do have to give props though to Shazam for even recognizing the band, Soundhound was not able to figure out which band it was despite repeated attempts.

One of our biggest gripes with the iPad version of Shazam however was that we couldn’t figure out how to get rid of the tooltips that covered the screen. This was especially annoying as they covered up the ability for the app to take you the iTunes Store where you could purchase the song. The iPhone version of the app did not have this problem.

Both apps also allow you to record a sample of a song even if you don’t have an active internet connection that you can then send to be identified once you’re back in an area with coverage. We liked how Soundhound told us not only what time we made the recording but also where we were. Shazam also told us the time of the recording but not a location. Not a huge thing but it’s nice to have that extra info.

Both apps used to make you pay to get unlimited tagging but it appears that both have decided that the free versions should have unlimited tagging too.

Overall on the iPhone we preferred the features and speed of Soundhound, but if you are looking for an app that has a larger library of more obscure music you’d be best to choose Shazam. On the iPad Soundhound wins hands down. Shazam’s app is still buggy and clunky so until they  do an update you’d be best to steer clear.