Within the first processing site of the central auditory pathway, inhibitory neurons (D stellate cells) broadly tuned to tonal frequency project on narrowly tuned, excitatory output neurons (T stellate cells). The latter is thought to provide a topographic representation of sound spectrum, whereas the former is thought to provide lateral inhibition that improves spectral contrast, particularly in noise. In response to pure tones, the overall discharge rate in T stellate cells is unlikely to be suppressed dramatically by D stellate cells because they respond primarily to stimulus onset and provide fast, short-duration inhibition. In vivo intracellular recordings from the ventral cochlear nucleus (VCN) showed that, when tones were presented above or below the characteristic frequency (CF) of a T stellate neuron, they were inhibited during depolarization. This resulted in a delay in the initial action potential produced by T stellate cells. This ability of fast inhibition to alter the first spike timing of a T stellate neuron was confirmed by electrically activating the D stellate cell pathway that arises in the contralateral cochlear nucleus. Delay was also induced when two tones were presented: one at CF and one outside the frequency response area of the T stellate neuron. These findings suggest that the traditional view of lateral inhibition within the VCN should incorporate delay as one of its principle outcomes.