Sound stage

What is the perfect sound stage when listening to 2 channel music? Does it vary from rock to jazz to classical? Should voices always be dead center no matter what type of music you are listening to? Should it be contained between the speakers or out side the speakers as well? Where does stereo separation between the speakers fit in? Should it be layered floor to sealing? Do you adjust your speaker toe in depending on what type of music your listening to? How do you know when its right? I have achieved all the above but never all at the same time.
Thanks Pete
Voices can come from anywhere not just dead center in a stereo recording. Same as anything else except with voices you might find a lead vocal dead center more often. Its all in how the recording was made and anything goes. Listen for where things are not where you think they SHOULD be. If you can tell in most cases where things are, you are in good shape. The biggest best soundstage will not be contained between the speakers but rather have breadth wall to wall and depth as well. Amount will vary by recording. Mono recordings will tend to be more dead center but if soundstage and recording is good will still have some room filling ambience but with a strong bias towards the center of the stage.
You need to understand a little bit about stereo hearing. You have two ears that allow you to detect the approximate direction and distance a sound is coming from. Stereo recording and playback is an attempt to capture the original performance's direction & distance information. For that to happen, you have to have a *stereo* recording. Very few recordings are done simply with 2 microphones to get true stereo. Most recordings are two-channel—multi-miked and mixed down to left & right channels—they are not stereo, although they may be labeled as such. For two-channel recordings, soundstage and imaging are nonexistent. What you hear is an imagined soundstage created by your mind's ear. This is a product of your experience, the mastering of the recording, and the combination of speaker dispersion pattern with your room's acoustics. It's going to vary from one recording to the next.

See Depth Perception
"How do you know when its right?"

To start, get something like the XLO Reference Recordings CD, which has tracks that will walk you through where you should be hearing things. If you hear what the narrator tells you should be hearing, then you're on the right track.
Its best to think of all recordings as having a soundstage. TWo channel recordings are considered stereo. The soundstage is artificial based on how the recording was miked and mastered but exists nonetheless. Some specialized or rare recordings use a simple two mike recording approach and attempt to reproduce teh soundstage at the live event. These are worth finding and seeking out. The old Mercury Living Presence and newer Dorian and Mapleshade labels are three with many recordings that contain a very natural soundstage due to production techniques.

Unless listening on headphones or on a stereo hifi not set up to address soundstage at all as a result of speaker placement, all recordings have a soundstage in that the "sonic cues" produced live are in the recording and affect teh results in terms of soundstage and imaging. Even with mono recordings, though again these will tend to have everything more dead center and sonic queues captured in the better ones can still provide a sense of 3-d ambience. You have to have a hifi that delivers enough detail to capture all the subtle sonic queues accurately and have things set up properly as well in all cases.
back when stereo first hit, soundstage and imaging was a big selling point. You can find old lp releases on Mercury Living Presence and others that go into great detail in teh cover notes how the recordings were made and what was located where during the recording session.

Soon after the novelty wore off and most people did not pay attention to such details. Except us audiophiles, of course.
Yea especially in early Beatles stereo pressings L:)
Staging is a function of both recording and playback equipment. I'd also agree with previous posts that there's no "perfect" paradigm that you're seeking for all recordings. Highly processed or manipulated recordings can even cause you to sense images that seem to be coming from behind your head (check out many of the Qsound recordings for this effect).

Heavy pan potting (Theme from Shaft, among many others) can create shifting instrument locations that are part of the intended artistic effect. You can seek out minimally miked records for purist stereo effects, but that approach is too limiting (in terms of music that I enjoy) for me.
I'm also in the camp of using recordings (or test discs) that are known for center fill, width, depth, phase, etc. and set the speakers up so they're optimized as best as possible across all parameters and then just leave them there -- unless something else changes of course. Recordings vary across and even within genres (and even sometimes individual recordings!) so greatly -- for better or worse -- that trying to optimize for each recording just seems like a fool's errand with no end. I never move my speakers, and if there's an occasional recording where something seems off I'll try to correct it with the balance control. If that doesn't work I either just deal with it if it's a recording I still really want to listen to or I'll listen to it in my car or through another less critical system where the flaws not as apparent. Or it goes on the shelf to collect dust or gets sold.
At the risk of appearing petty, I think some might be confusing "sound stage" with imaging.
The OP refers to both despite the title of the thread.
^That's where the confusion started.:-).

For the sake of the OP: soundstage refers to the perception of the dimensions of height, width, depth, and the shape within those parameters. Imaging refers to the perceived individual placement and dimensions of the performers within the soundstage.

In some instances these attributes are due to attempts to capture a more literal recording of what occurred during the actual recording of the artists. In other instances the perceptions are the result of artistic(?) manipulation by the engineer(s). Yet, in other instances these perceptions are the result of combinations of the former and the later by the recording engineer(s).

The level to which these attributes can be appreciated by the listener depends on all of the above, and upon the users equipment, listening room, setup and positioning as well the individual listener's hearing.
Here are a couple tools, for determining whether your system and listening room are capable of image resolution and sound stage reproduction: ( ( The Chesky CD includes the LEDR, as well as a sound stage test/demo. If your system performs well with these tests, recording venue ambience/dimensions and instrument/vocal placement will be as good as the recording quality allows. Of course, if you're spinning vinyl- much depends on how well your cart, arm, cables and phono stage capture and convey what's on your records.