capsule review

Shazam

At a Glance
  • Generic Company Place Holder Shazam

    PCWorld Rating

    A very cool app that identifies the ambient music that's playing; unfortunately it tends to crash fairly often.

Shazam is surely proof that the geeks shall inherit the earth. It used to be that if you heard a song you didn't recognize, you had to ask someone to identify it for you. If that person happened to be a music snob, as opposed to a general enthusiast of the song being played, you would then earn ridicule for your ignorance. Obviously that song you didn't recognize was from the second album by a Soviet post-folk power metal band with an unpronounceable name, and how foolish of you for not having heard this music until this very moment.

In an ideal world, we might expect such pointless mockery to end after high school, but that is wishful thinking for a society where reality TV shows and job interviews persist. In this society, ignorance of the nearly unlimited amount of music at our disposal can still be occasion for embarrassment.

Shazam has a "power to the people" philosophy, bypassing the snobs and the DJs whose careers are riding on the audience's ignorance of the tracks they play, to make basic information on ambient music available as easily as possible. The app listens to music playing wherever you are, and identifies the song for you. The first time you see Shazam in action, the amazing technical achievement feels more like magic. It also keeps a log of every music track it tags so you can go back and refer to it.

When you consider the amount of recorded music that is now available (more than you can listen to in a lifetime), the range of tracks Shazam can identify is impressive. I had the most success with hip-hop and reggae, and anything that was a Top 40 hit, but it can go much deeper than that. It can also successfully identify bands, like Flying Saucer Attack, that are not exactly household names. Like most people, Shazam had a lot of difficulty identifying jazz. Remixes are also usually tricky for it. I also couldn't get it to identify anything from a live album.

But Shazam works in an amazing variety of settings. I've successfully identified tracks in night clubs, at parties, from car stereos on the streets, and music coming through tinny laptop speakers. Unfortunately, everything that Shazam does right is marred by bugs in the current version, which crashes quite frequently. Aside from that problem, Shazam is awesome.

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At a Glance
  • PCWorld Rating

    A very cool app that identifies the ambient music that's playing; unfortunately it tends to crash fairly often.

    Pros

    • Excellent recognition of popular music in a variety of environments, with decent recognition of some more-obscure bands.

    Cons

    • Doesn't do well with live albums, remixes, or jazz.
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