The auditory compound action potential (CAP) represents synchronous VIIIth nerve activity. Clicks or impulses have been used in the past to produce this synchrony under the assumption that the wide spectral spread inherent in transient signals will activate a large portion of the cochlear partition. However, the observation that only auditory nerve units tuned above 3 kHz contribute to synchronous activity in the N1P1 complex of the CAP [Dolan et al., J. Acoust. Soc. Am. 73, 580-591 (1983)] suggests that temporal delays imposed by the traveling wave result in an asynchronous pattern of VIIIth nerve activation. In order to determine if units tuned below 3 kHz could be recruited into the CAP response, the present study uses tone bursts of exponentially rising frequency to hypothetically activate synchronous discharges of VIIIth nerve fibers along the length of the cochlear partition. The equations defining the frequency sweeps are calculated to be the inverse of the delay-line characteristics of the guinea pig cochlear partition. The resultant sweeps theoretically cause a constant phase displacement of a large portion of the cochlear partition at one time. Compound action potentials recorded in response to the rising frequency sweeps were compared to CAPs evoked by corresponding falling frequency sweeps and clicks. Analysis of the CAP waveforms showed narrower N1 widths and larger N1 and P1 amplitudes for rising sweeps when compared to falling sweeps. This is consistent with the hypothesis of increased synchrony. A further test of the hypothesis was made by using high-pass masking noise to evaluate the contributions of discrete cochlear locations to the CAP ("derived" CAP). Latency functions of the derived CAPs for clicks and falling frequency sweeps showed progressive increases in latency as the cutoff frequency of the high-pass filter was lowered. The latency of the derived CAP for these stimulus conditions reflects traveling wave delays [Aran and Cazals, "Electrocochleography: Animal studies," in Evoked Electrical Activity in The Auditory Nervous System (Academic, New York, 1978)]. In contrast, derived CAPs obtained from rising sweeps showed no change in latency for any cutoff frequencies, indicating a constant delay of response for fibers with different characteristic frequencies (CFs). These results support the theoretical premise underlying the derivation of the rising sweep: Spectral energy with the appropriate temporal organization, dictated by basilar membrane traveling wave properties, will increase CAP synchrony.