How life has changed. It seems like only yesterday when if you heard a song on the radio the chances of finding out anything about the song were slim. Twenty years ago, you had to rely on DJs filling you in with the details, or long convoluted chats with your mates in the bar.
Fast forward to today and all the information you’d ever want is instantly available thanks to modern software and some clever apps. The head scratching and the days of replaying a song in your mind, whilst thinking, “What song is this?” are long gone.
I have a bit of nostalgia for this part of history. But, I’ll also readily admit that music recognition apps and software are incredibly cool. Despite still yearning for plenty of things from yesteryear, this is one piece of modern technology I’m happy to keep.
So, what are the best song recognition apps and software, and how do they work? Let’s find out.
I’ve put my clever glasses and white lab coat on for this one. Music software recognition is a relatively new phenomenon and goes back just over twenty years. In the early days, things were nowhere as sophisticated as they are today.
Back then there were no smartphones or voice assistants. If you wanted to find out about a song, you had to call a phone number and then play the piece of music into the receiver for thirty seconds.
Subsequently, you’d get a text message to tell you the name of the song. A bit of a lengthy process but groundbreaking at the time.
So, how does it work?
The process is a combination of spectrograms and audio footprints. A spectrogram is a sound graph that logs the frequencies of a song in terms of its amplitude.
The spectrogram then takes the information from the song you present and compares it to the computer’s song database, and looks for a match.
This works effectively but has a very limited practical application. The reason is that there is far too much information required to compare songs across even a relatively small database.
So, what is the solution?
The conundrum is solved by using audio fingerprints. These are used to simplify the spectrogram in the form of dots. This significantly reduces the amount of data. Modern-day apps then take this one step further by using small sections of the dots. This again reduces the amount of data required to identify a song.
Clever stuff. Okay, science lesson over. Now, let’s take a look at some of the best options for song identification. Hopefully, these will help the next time you’re asking yourself, “What song is this?”
Shazam has to be first on the list because, well, it was the first. The company was founded in 1999, and they were the guys that, in 2002, had you dialing numbers to get your song information.
It wasn’t until 2008 that they brought out an app for smartphones. The company was subsequently bought by Apple in 2018 for a cool $400 million. But, despite being owned by Apple, you can use it on your Android phone too.
It’s undoubtedly one of the most accurate song identification apps on the market, with one of the most extensive libraries too. Another thing I like is that since it’s an account-based app, you can store information across different devices.
Its offline mode is a big plus too…
If you don’t have a connection, you can still record and save songs for when you get back online. One more feature worth mentioning is that you have the choice of operating Shazam either manually or letting it do its thing automatically.
If you leave the app in auto mode, which lets it run in the background all the time, it will identify all the songs it hears. Then, when you get home, you can go back into the library and browse through any songs of interest. Pretty neat.
There are a couple. The first isn’t a deal breaker for me, but it might have some of you looking elsewhere. Unfortunately, there isn’t a hands-free mode. That’s a shame, but it still works through AirPods or most earbuds if you’re using Android.
The second issue is more troublesome. Unlike some of the other apps, Shazam can’t recognize covers or live versions. Only originals are recognized, and there’s no doubt that this is a glaring omission. Overall, it’s a great app, and it’s free with the option of a premium version too.
This is an interesting app and, in many ways, is a lot more information orientated than many of its competitors. It feels more in line with how social media has evolved and feeds us our information.
Let me explain…
Unlike Shazam and many other music recognition apps, Genius gives you way more than just the song title, artist, and lyrics. You get all of this, but a lot more too.
What I like is that you also get links to YouTube videos along with the songs that are included in the same album. But even better, you also get feeds to articles, news, and interviews with the artist. That’s pretty cool, right?
Now, I confess that I’m far from an active user on social media platforms, but I like this a lot.
SoundHound is another popular song recognition app, and like Shazam and Genius, it’s free. However, you still have the option of a paid version if you want to get rid of the ads. Well worth the money if it’s something you’re likely to use regularly.
It can be downloaded and used with iOS or with Android. Alternatively, there’s also a Windows desktop version. A useful alternative, I’m sure you’ll agree.
What does it do best?
The app offers you most of the good stuff you’ll find amongst its competitors. This, of course, includes basic song recognition and associated information. However, where it excels is in the well-organized library and screen layout. This feels a lot easier to use and navigate in comparison to some of its competitors.
Other pluses include the ability to manually type in lyrics to get song information. Additionally, you can also hum the tune and it should be able to identify it. It’s a clear advantage over something like Shazam.
Musixmatch is another top-performing app with one of the better-organized layouts there is. The libraries are easy to navigate, and the screen is nice and uncluttered. The lyrics menu is worthy of special mention as one of the best I’ve seen.
Lyrics can be saved and shared. Plus, you can search for songs by lyrics, and you can look through them when you are offline too. However, one feature I particularly like is the ability to translate existing lyrics into a different language.
Very useful if you want to know what a song is in a different language. Admittedly, you could do this by copying and pasting them into a translator. But this is so much better.
One final point about the lyrics…
The app can sync them with the music. Nice to give you the chance to sing along and brush up on your karaoke skills. For those of you would-be singing divas, here is a free karaoke phone app to help you along.
As well as giving you a smooth operating experience, it’s fast too. It does, however, contain ads in the free version, which can slow things down and be a little annoying.
If you are a heavy user and into your lyrics, or maybe a multi-language user, it’s probably worth paying for the subscription-based premium version. Available on iOS, Android, and windows.
This is the last of the music recognition phone apps that we’ll be looking at. There are other apps, but I think once we’ve looked at BeatFind, the most popular apps have been covered.
So, why BeatFind?
Because it’s a no-frills, easy-to-use app with an intuitive menu and history section. It’s also quick to identify songs. What’s more, it also links the songs to a variety of external sources. These include Deezer, Spotify, and YouTube.
One unique feature is the ability to link the flash on your camera to the beat of the music. Honestly, it might be unique to this app, but I have to say I can’t see it being used. Other than maybe once or twice as a bit of a laugh. However, it’s there if you want it.
One last point…
Depending on your point of view, this could be positive or negative. That is, it only comes as a free version. Ads are run as banners at the bottom of the screen. Therefore, if you’re looking for a more comprehensive paid app with more features, this isn’t for you.
Additionally, the real deal breaker for many, most probably, is that it’s only available for Android.
This is the first of the website-only song detectors. Now, some of the younger generations will be looking at their screens in disbelief at the thought of not using their phones for absolutely everything. However, there are times when you’re using your laptop when it’s just more convenient.
It’s a website built by SoundHound, and for the most part, contains pretty much the same content and software architecture. But another big plus with Midomi is it’s completely free. This isn’t special in itself, but what sets it apart are the features you get on the free version.
That means that you get all of the same good stuff you get with SoundHound. Including the ability to find out, “What song am I listening to?” by either humming it or inputting the lyrics. All in all, I’m sure you’ll agree, not bad at all.
There are a few other web-based song recognition apps, but the only other one I want to look at is AHA Music which is very much worth an honorable mention.
So, why is that?
Because it has a large cloud-based database and also has one of the quickest song recognition software that I tested. What’s more, it can recognize a song by singing or humming it.
But does this work well in practice? Yes, it does; I’ve tried it. And my voice sucks!
Another reason to love this webpage is that you can use it as an extension with both Chrome and Edge. I like that a lot and I also like the fact that it’s all free.
WatZatSong is an interesting website-only application and an interesting approach to identifying a song.
To this point, all the applications have relied on clever algorithms to give you the information you need. However, there’s none of that high-tech stuff when you use WatZatSong. What you are relying on is good old-fashioned peer group knowledge.
This is essentially a forum for music. You simply post the piece of music or tune you’re trying to name and the forum will hopefully do the rest.
A couple of things I like about the website…
You can also describe the song if you don’t have a sample. That will make the chance of an accurate identification much less likely. Although, some of the random replies could be rather a lot of fun.
The other thing I like is that it provides an opportunity to find out information about much more obscure songs. For example, smaller bands or bands from smaller countries.
As a final mention for web-based searches. If you don’t get a hit with WatZatSong, it’s worth a try posting something on general forums like Redditt and Quora. There are plenty of eggheads on both of these, and one of them might just be able to help you out.
I’ve left voice assistants until last and put Google at the top of the list since it’s one of the most popular.
Google assist is every bit as good as the mobile apps I’ve already covered. It offers the same kinds of features, which also include being able to identify a song by either humming or singing it.
It has excellent software and can even give you the details of a song playing quietly in the background from another room or a decent distance away.
Google Assist can be used on your mobile phone, laptop, or PC. Most phones now have Google Assist preloaded. If, for some reason, yours doesn’t just go to the Google Play Store to download it.
If you are an Apple user, you can also use Google Assist. It won’t come preloaded, but it will be available for download at the Apple App Store. Apple also has its own song recognition voice assistant software, but more of that later.
And, did I mention you get Google Assistant for free? Not bad, eh?
This is the Apple voice assistant. It’s very similar to Google Assist, and its ability to recognize a song is almost identical. It’s been said that Siri is a little slower and not quite as accurate, but I’d dispute that. If there is a difference, quite frankly, it’s too close to call.
Operationally, it’s a smooth experience. Not surprising since this is an Apple product. If you want to identify the song, ask Siri, “What Song is this?”, “What song is playing?”, or pretty much any similar phrase, and you’re good.
One way that Siri differs is that you get recommendations to play the song and purchase it through the Apple Store. Who’d of thought! Oh, and don’t expect any links to YouTube videos, by the way. Siri is also free of charge.
Most of you will know that Alexa is a part of Amazon. If you opt to use Alexa for song identification purposes, unlike Google Assist and Siri, there is a set phrase protocol you need to remember.
First, you have to say, “Turn on song ID” to get Alexa to enter into the song identification software program. Once you’ve done that, you can use whatever phrase you like to identify a song.
Like Google Assist and Siri, the software is free. However, there’s a small catch as you’ll have to have an Amazon account first. This doesn’t mean a paid-for subscription, though, so don’t worry.
Like all voice assistants…
You can have them loaded on your phone. Or, like many people do these days, operate them with a Bluetooth Speaker. If you want to use Alexa, these days, it’s possible to find a well-priced Smart Speaker with Alexa preinstalled.
Want to Find Music You Like or New Music?
Of course, once you find those songs, you’ll want to listen to them. So, check out our in-depth reviews of the Best Music Streamers, the Best Waterproof MP3 Players, the Best Wireless Outdoor Speakers, and the Loudest Portable Bluetooth Speakers you can buy in 2023.
And, don’t miss our comprehensive reviews of the Best Headphones for Music, the Best Headphones For Rock & Metal Music, the Best Sound Quality Earbuds, and the Best Bass Earbuds currently on the market.
What Song Is This? – Final Thoughts
So, there you have it. Although I’ve not covered every single option out there, and there are plenty, I’ve covered the most popular and effective ones.
Finally, I don’t think you can go wrong with any of these choices. However, despite not being the most tech-savvy person on the planet, I confess these days to using Google Assist. This is the way things are going, and it’s becoming increasingly my go-to device for pretty much everything.
Until next time, happy listening.