This article addresses an important current development in medical and biological imaging: the possibility of imaging soft tissue at resolutions in the micron range using hard X-rays. Challenging environments, including the cochlea, require the imaging of soft tissue structure surrounded by bone. We demonstrate that cochlear soft tissue structures can be imaged with hard X-ray phase contrast. Furthermore, we show that only a thin slice of the tissue is required to introduce a large phase shift. It is likely that the phase contrast image of the soft tissue structures is sufficient to image the structures even if surrounded by bone. For the present set of experiments, structures with low-absorption contrast have been visualized using in-line phase contrast imaging and a grating interferometer. The experiments have been performed at the Advanced Photon Source at Argonne National Laboratories, a third generation source of synchrotron radiation. The source provides highly coherent X-ray radiation with high-photon flux (>1012 photons/s) at high-photon energies (5–70 keV). Radiographic and light microscopy images of the gerbil cochlear slice samples were compared. It has been determined that a 20-μm thick tissue slice induces a phase shift between 1/3π and 2/3π. Microsc. Res. Tech., 2009. © 2009 Wiley-Liss, Inc.