The spectro-temporal receptive field (STRF) of an auditory neuron describes the linear relationship between the sound stimulus in a time-frequency representation and the neural response. Time-frequency representations of a sound in turn require a nonlinear operation on the sound pressure waveform and many different forms for this non-linear transformation are possible. Here, we systematically investigated the effects of four factors in the non-linear step in the STRF model: the choice of logarithmic or linear filter frequency spacing, the time-frequency scale, stimulus amplitude compression and adaptive gain control. We quantified the goodness of fit of these different STRF models on data obtained from auditory neurons in the songbird midbrain and forebrain. We found that adaptive gain control and the correct stimulus amplitude compression scheme are paramount to correctly modelling neurons. The time-frequency scale and frequency spacing also affected the goodness of fit of the model but to a lesser extent and the optimal values were stimulus dependent.