This paper concerns an important aspect of current developments in medical and biological imaging: the possibility for imaging soft tissue at relatively high resolution in the micrometer range or better, without tedious and/or entirely destructive sample preparation. Structures with low absorption contrast have been visualized using in-line phase contrast imaging. The experiments have been performed at the Advanced Photon Source, a third generation source of synchrotron radiation. The source provides highly coherent X-ray radiation with high photon flux (>1014 photons/s) at high photon energies (5–70 keV). Thick gerbil cochlear slices have been imaged and were compared with those obtained by light microscopy. Furthermore, intact gerbil cochleae have been imaged to identify the soft tissue structures involved in the hearing process. The present experimental approach was essential for visualizing the inner ear structures involved in the hearing process in an intact cochlea. Microsc. Res. Tech., 2006. © 2006 Wiley-Liss, Inc.