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We study the noise performance of amorphous FeCoB soft underlayers (SULs) with radial magnetic anisotropy. 200 nm thick FeCoB films are sputter deposited and optionally postannealed for 8 s at different annealing powers. The correlation of SUL read-back noise with the magnetic and structural properties is studied using spin stand testing, in-plane magneto-optical Kerr effect measurements, magnetic force microscopy, and x-ray diffraction. The effects of annealing to achieve low read-back noise are examined. It is found that as-prepared films show large dc noise associated with stripe domains due to stress-induced perpendicular anisotropy. Thermal annealing reduces the internal stress and the films become magnetically anisotropic in the radial direction. The SUL-induced dc noise drops to the electronic noise floor. dc noise is found to decrease with an increase in annealing power until the films start to crystallize. © 2002 American Institute of Physics.