Excitable cells use ion channels to tailor their biophysical properties to the functional demands made upon them. During development, these demands may alter considerably, often associated with a change in the cells' complement of ion channels. Here we present evidence for such a change in inner hair cells, the primary sensory receptors in the mammalian cochlea. In mice, responses to sound can first be recorded from the auditory nerve and observed behaviourally from 10-12 days after birth; these responses mature rapidly over the next 4 days. Before this time, mouse inner hair cells have slow voltage responses and fire spontaneous and evoked action potentials. During development of auditory responsiveness a large, fast potassium conductance is expressed, greatly speeding up the membrane time constant and preventing action potentials. This change in potassium channel expression turns the inner hair cell from a regenerative, spiking pacemaker into a high-frequency signal transducer.