A composite inner‐ear model, containing the middle ear, basilar membrane (BM), hair cells, and hair‐cell/nerve‐fiber synapses, is presented. The model incorporates either a linear‐BM stage or a nonlinear one. The model with the nonlinear BM generally shows a high degree of success in reproducing the qualitative aspects of experimentally recorded cat auditory‐nerve‐fiber responses to speech. In modeling fiber population responses to speech and speech in noise, it was found that the BM nonlinearity allows bands of fibers in the model to synchronize strongly to a common spectral peak in the stimulus. A cross‐channel correlation algorithm has been devised to further process the model’s population outputs. With output from the nonlinear‐BM model, the cross‐channel correlation values are appreciably reduced only at those channels whose CFs coincide with the formant frequencies. This observation also holds, to a large extent, for noisy speech.