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The problem of noise in thin-film longitudinal media is analyzed experimentally and theoretically. The physical mechanism for the noise is shown to be fluctuations in the geometry of the zig-zag transitions separating bit cells. The shifted-transition noise model is introduced as a means of quantifying the noise processes. Spatial, spectral, and autocorrelation properties are introduced. A calculation of the RMS noise voltage yields the characteristic noise versus density curves found experimentally, and clarifies their interpretation with respect to the signal-to-noise ratio. The corresponding experimental data for several plated and sputtered media are presented and analyzed in the light of the model predictions.