The function of the ventral nucleus of the lateral lemniscus (VNLL), a secondary processing site within the auditory brain stem, is unclear. It is known to be a major source of inhibition to the inferior colliculus (IC). It is also thought to play a role in coding the temporal aspects of sound, such as onsets and the periodic components of complex stimuli. In vivo intracellular recordings from VNLL neurons (n = 56) in urethane anesthetized rats revealed the presence of large-amplitude, short-duration, onset inhibition in a subset of neurons (14.3%). This inhibition occurred before the first action potential (AP) elicited by noise or tone bursts, was broadly tuned to tonal frequency and was shown to delay the first AP. Our data suggest it is a result of an intrinsic circuit activated by the octopus cell pathway originating in the contralateral cochlear nucleus; this pathway is known to convey exquisitely timed and broadly tuned onset information. This powerful inhibition within the VNLL appears to control the timing of this structure's inhibitory output to higher centers, which has important auditory processing outcomes. The circuit also provides a pathway for fast, broadly tuned, onset inhibition to the IC.