We’ve all been there, I’m sure. You hear an awesome song on the radio (new or old, it doesn’t matter) but you have no clue who it’s by, nor do you know the name. But now you have to know! Too bad your friends don’t know it either. So what do you do?

Well, if you are equipped with an iPhone or iPad and a good data connection, then you can find out in only a few seconds. But what’s the best app for the job?

This week, I’ll be comparing the two top competitors in this space: Shazam Encore/Shazam for iPad and SoundHound ∞ (a universal app).

Which app is the best way to go? Find out in this App Showdown!

Shazam Encore

At $5.99, Shazam Encore isn’t exactly cheap. Fortunately, if you prefer to try the app before you buy, there is a free version available with some in-app purchases to unlock all features. For those who like charitable causes, there is also (Shazam)RED (also $5.99), which will donate part of the proceeds to the (RED) organization, and even have exclusive features like links to Spotify and Pandora.

It’s all you need.

The moment you launch the app, you’re right on the main screen, which is conveniently “Touch to Shazam.” I found the interface for Shazam to be very straightforward and easy-to-use with clearly labeled sections (My Tags, Discover, Friends, and Settings, with the Shazam button located directly in the middle for quick access). It’s not the prettiest layout I’ve seen, but it works, and for an app like this, that’s the most important thing, right?

Touching the logo button in the middle will allow the app to listen for nearby music using your iPhone’s microphone, and you can see the progress right on the screen. You can even see the spinner “dancing” to the beat of the song, which is a nice touch. The time for Shazam to listen and identify a song may vary, but it should be no more than a couple of seconds (at least three, but probably no more than 10). If it is a lesser-known song, it may take a bit longer than the new single that is played a dozen times a day on the radio.

During my tests, Shazam would be able to identify music that is played at even low volumes in a noisy environment, such as Starbucks. However, when it comes to more obscure stuff, Shazam may have a bit of a hard time with it. But for the most part, it is accurate with the songs that you will probably hear while you’re out and about.

A tagged song in Shazam.

Once a match is made, you will see the song title, the artist, and album art (if applicable). To go along with your newly identified information, Shazam provides a wealth of options for you. You can share your tag (on Shazam, Twitter, Facebook, or email), pull up YouTube videos, read the lyrics, get artist or concert and tour info, play the song in Spotify, or just delete the tag from your history (My Tags). Additionally, there are links to view the song and album in iTunes if you want to purchase it, and you can even listen to the song again in the form of a 30 second preview.

Shazam will list an “Essential Tracks” option, but it doesn’t seem to do more than just open iTunes and take you to the main music page. I was hoping to see something like a genius feature telling you what the best songs from the artist were.

See what’s topping the U.S. charts.

Of course, Shazam can be used to find new music as well, rather than just figuring out what a song is. The Discover tab allows you to view a list of the top 20 songs in the U.S. at the moment. Unfortunately, I am not sure if this can be changed to view another country, because I haven’t been able to figure it out. If anyone does find a way, please let me know. The other option in Discover is to search by keyword in title, artist, or album name.

View what your friends are listening to.

The Friends section in Shazam allows you to view what your friends have tagged. It seems that Shazam features tight integration with Facebook only, so you are only able to see activity here if you have linked up your Facebook account to it. This is a shame for those that choose to not use Facebook, because it’s a useless section. But if you are on the book of faces, then this is a great way to find out what your friends have heard.

Due to the commercial nature of Shazam, users can also enjoy additional features, like getting song lists during American Idol and using the app when there is a Shazam prompt on the television to get exclusive content.

While it’s relatively easy to get Shazam to start listening to a song, I am a bit disappointed that there is no way for it to automatically “listen on launch.” Having a feature like that would make it much easier to use the app where you probably need it the most — while driving. But I suppose two taps isn’t that bad.

Overall, I found Shazam to be a really good app to have on hand if you need to find out what a song is. It is accurate and will identify most songs, mostly English, but some foreign language songs as well. For most, I believe that the free version should be good enough, but if you prefer to have all of the features, then $5.99 is worth the use you will get out of Shazam Encore.

Shazam for iPad

Luckily, if you want Shazam on your iPad, there is only this one app available, and it’s completely free. However, it would have been nicer if the iPhone versions were actually universal binaries, but I digress.

Viewing a tagged song in Shazam for iPad. Pretty simple interface, right?

Shazam for iPad is basically the same as Encore, but the interface is a lot simpler, though it may be the larger screen estate that makes it feel that way. The main screen will be dedicated for all of your tagged songs, and you can access the ever cool “tag stream” from the top. To have the app start tagging, just give that little “Shazam” button in the top right corner a tap.

Just like the iPhone version, Shazam for iPad will only take a few seconds to identify a song (or not). You then get the album art, track name, artist, and other information like location you tagged it (if you permit location services). A biography section for the artist appears below, and a side panel appears on the right hand side with links to iTunes, similar songs, releases, and YouTube videos. The tag can also be shared or deleted from the side panel as well.

See other songs that are similar to the one you tagged.

If you’re curious about your history of tags, then you can access the list with the button at the top left corner. You’ll be able to see all of your tags in chronological order, complete with timestamp. There is also a Chart tab from the list menu, and you can view the top 10 tagged songs on Shazam.

The Tag Stream will keep you entertained for a good few minutes as you see what other Shazam users are tagging in real-time.

One of the coolest features of Shazam for iPad though, is the “Tag Stream.” This is visualizer that drops “particles” down from the top of the screen, and they will recollect themselves as album art. The Tag Stream will consist of what Shazamers around the world are listening to and tagging in real-time. I found that watching the stream of album covers forming and drifting away is a pretty hypnotizing experience.

Shazam for iPad works pretty much the same as the iPhone versions, in terms of features and speed. Since this version is free, I recommend giving it a try. However, I don’t personally see myself pulling out the iPad to identify a song — it just seems like a job that is more suited for the iPhone due to convenience.

SoundHound ∞

SoundHound ∞ may be the more expensive of the two, but the feature set makes up for the price, for the most part. The application is also a universal binary, so it is available on both your iPhone or iPad. There is also a free version available if you would rather give the app a try before purchasing the full version.

The first thing you’ll see when you launch SoundHound. The button to launch the identifier is a bit small compared to the full screen of Shazam.

Once the app is launched, the main screen is divided into two sections: the top half will have the “What’s That Song?” button, and the bottom will have scrolling section of promoted content on SoundHound, containing stuff like “Most Shared Song,” “Most Tweeted Song,” “Free Song Download from iTunes,” “Today’s Hottest Songs,” and even recommendations based on your history of searches. I wasn’t too fond of these, since they almost feel like advertisements.

To utilize SoundHound for a search of a song, you can tap on the button and it will listen for playing music. Now, the best part about SoundHound is that it isn’t restrictive to just what’s being played at the moment. The app can also work with melodies that you hum or sing, as long as you can do it for around 10 seconds. This is great when you have a jingle stuck in your head all day, end up humming out aloud, but have no clue what it’s called or who it is by.

Another bonus of SoundHound is the fact that it has a setting to automatically listen for a song the moment it is launched. When it is trying to find a match for a song, it doesn’t take long — like Shazam, it should only be a few seconds. You are able to see the progress of the matching in the small space dedicated to the button.

However, it seems that SoundHound must be very close to the source of music, and there can’t be much background noise in order to identify it. I tried using it at Starbucks quite a few times (the music was at low and high volume levels with many people talking), and it was never able to find a match for the songs that played, even though Shazam Encore got multiple matches. If I used the app in the car or next to a speaker, then I will have no problem, unless there are connection issues.

The identified song view.

However, if you are able to get a successful tag from SoundHound, you are able to see the name of the song, the album it’s from (along with album art), and the artist name. There will be links to purchase the song on iTunes, in case you feel like (legally) owning it.

You can share your song with a comment on Facebook or Twitter, or you can send it by email or SMS. Lyrics are also available, and they can actually scroll along with the song if it is still playing. Several of the most popular videos on YouTube will be displayed, though you can view more if you tap on the section.

If you are a Spotify premium subscriber, then you can open the app with that song, which is expedient. SoundHound can also deliver recommended songs to you based on the identified artist, as well as other little tidbits regarding it.

View what’s hot and popular on the charts.

SoundHound has other features as well, such as the Charts feature. Here, you are able to see what the hottest songs are, discoveries, most tweeted, just found by fans, and some of SoundHound’s own tweets. You can also search for a song, artist, album, or even lyrics by typing or using the voice dictation feature. Be careful though, as the app doesn’t translate some words accurately (Muse sounds like news).

Use your voice to search SoundHound.

If you have playlists on your device, then you are able to play your music directly through the SoundHound app as well. It is nice to see the lyrics for the song displayed, and the app even scrolls through the lyrics as it plays. This is a feature that is pretty convenient to have, but personally, not a necessity. I believe it is more for the people that don’t really want to use two separate apps to identify and play music.

You can follow along with your favorite songs with the music player in SoundHound.

One of my favorite features of SoundHound is how the display album artwork, regardless if you are looking at the charts or tagging songs. The app will display the artwork so that it blends in the background, and you are able to see relevant information displayed on top of it. In some ways, I prefer the interface of SoundHound to that of Shazam, because it isn’t as plain.

There are also a few more customization options to SoundHound when compared with the competition. You can enable shake-to-search, use Bluetooth, store your history and bookmarks in iCloud, and even auto-share your newly discovered tunes to Facebook or Twitter.

Having some issues with SoundHound?

While SoundHound has been a great app over the years, I’ve been having a few problems with it during my use in the past few days. This makes it harder to fully recommend the app.

The Winner

Despite being a fan of SoundHound for years (I’ve been using the app since 2008), Shazam has been a winner for me as of late.

Shazam has been identifying songs without any issues, and it works very quickly. In fact, this week, Shazam was able to identify the newly released Muse single, “Madness,” while SoundHound didn’t recognize it at all. The only thing that I wish Shazam had was the ability to allow users to hum or sing tunes into it — if it had that, then the app would be perfect.

However, perhaps I have just been having some bad luck with SoundHound ∞. I would recommend checking out the free version and seeing if it delivers better results for you.

What are you using to identify those great new songs that you hear? And don’t forget, if you have any suggestions for a future App Showdown feature, let me know at christinechan@appadvice.com.