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A complete model, including both writing and reading, of field‐modulated magneto‐optical recording is presented. Data are shown to corroborate the model in terms of the readback signal amplitude versus linear density. Mark‐edge shapes are calculated from a Green’s function thermal model, and the edges are correlated with the read intensity profile to determine the channel roll‐off curve. In addition, the data presented show that the mixed magnetization content in field‐modulated recording is not a function of modulation rate. The data reveal the thermal interaction of adjacent marks in beam‐modulation recording and the resulting degradation of the channel response relative to field modulation.