Neurons integrate synaptic inputs across time and space, a process that determines the transformation of input signals into action potential output. This article explores how synaptic integration contributes to the richness of sensory signalling in the cerebellar and cerebral cortices. Whether a neuron receives a few or a few thousand discrete inputs, most evoked synaptic activity generates only subthreshold membrane potential fluctuations. Sensory tuning of synaptic inputs is typically broad, but short-term dynamics and the interplay between excitation and inhibition restrict action potential firing to narrow windows of opportunity. We highlight the challenges and limitations of the use of somatic recordings in the study of synaptic integration and the importance of active dendritic mechanisms in sensory processing.