Sensory transduction shares common features in widely different sensory modalities. The purpose of this article is to examine the similarities and differences in the underlying mechanisms of transduction in the sensory receptor cells for vision, olfaction, and hearing. One of the major differences between the systems relates to the nature of the stimulus. In both the visual and olfactory systems a quantal mechanism of detection is possible, because the absorption of a photon or the binding of an odorant molecule provides an energy change significantly greater than the thermal noise in the receptor molecule. In hearing, on the other hand, the energy of a phonon is far lower, and detection occurs by a “classical” mechanism. For vertebrate photoreceptors and olfactory receptor cells, sensory transduction employs a G protein cascade that is remarkably similar in the two cases, and that is closely homologous to other G protein signaling cascades. For auditory and vestibular hair cells, transduction operates via a mechanism of direct coupling of the stimulus to ion channels, in a manner reminiscent of the direct gating of post-synaptic ion channels in various synaptic mechanisms. The three classes of sensory receptor cell share similarities in their mechanisms of adaptation, and it appears in each case that cytoplasmic calcium concentration plays a major role in adaptation.