Best way to spend $2k on a used Turntable & Arm?

I have a limited budget to spend on a used table and arm combo. I have a new Grado $120 cart. but could consider a complete outfit incl. cart. for $2k. I have liked the sound of the Sotas and perhaps Linn but think that I like the sound of the Sota better. I am curious about maybe VPI, Rega or Clearaudio, or anything that will maximize performance in this limited price range. I used to own a Music Hall MMF 5 but was not knocked out with it. Of course I like tubes and will get a phono pre separately. Thanks for the help.
VPI Scout is goo performer but some don't like Uni-pivot or no anti skate but it's good one.But I own Aries and really like it.Always pluses and minuses.Owned Rega but at lower and not the best construction in table but arms like 250 and 300 are very good.How much you spend would depend if might upgrade cart.Some choose it first then spend what they can on deck.Denon DL series,lower end Dynavector,Sumiko are good choices.New cart and used deck?Can pick up Scout used for $1200 and then spend what you want on Cart.Linn is different world than suspension less decks.They require less tweaking then most say but still easier not to have to do it.Clearaudio is good.Origin Live makes over price performing arms.Nothing you mentioned is bad in decks is just price point and how well it performs versus others.Think deciding on Cart or deck/arm first helps make second choice easier and again if you think you might upgrade cart go low their and get best deck/arm you can in new/used market.Just buy new Cart and think about new used deck arm.Oh Nottingham might be something to read about as well.Call Bes Nivera at Music Direct.He's heard it all in every combo and sells most.
In order to make a good decision, and get good recommendations, try to define what it was that you did not like about the sound of the MMF5, and what it was about the others that you mentioned that you did like. That would make a good starting point. Was the sound lean, or too full? A little slow and boring, or nervous sounding? Did you get the sense that the bass player was actually contributing to the rhythmic thrust of the music, or simply adding low frequency grunt? Could you hear actual pitches from the bass?

Keep the Grado unless you get a particularly good deal on a package, and perhaps use the money saved for a really good phono stage. Remember that the Grado is a full bodied sounding cartridge, with a generous midrange and bass, as you plan the ingredients list of your sonic recipe :-)

Good luck.
A used Sota vacuum table is a great value but budget some money to have it inspected by the factory to make sure bearing and vac/power supply are working properly.
If you had the MMF 5 and used the Grado... I would blame the cheap Grado. IMO a MMF 5 would use a cart that was at least $700 like a Benz Ace, a Dynavector 20X, Ortofon 2m Black.
I think spending $2 grand! on a TT and sticking the $120 Grado on it would be foolish.
For $2,000 you could have a used Rega P-5 with a brand new Benz Glider!
I used the cartridge that came w/ the MMF5. I think it was a Benz cartridge actually. That was in 2003. I appreciate Frogman's suggestion of stating what I liked about the Sota. It did have a vacuum platter w/ a FFT? arm and a $2000.00 Ortofon cartridge. I'm sure it was a $6000 outfit new. I liked it's ability to extract information from the record. It seemed to have a bass that I liked better than the LP12s. We did use a VPI cleaning machine with the Sota. I'm sure that 2k used won't get me quite to that sound but I'm hoping to find what would get me the closest at that price range. I will probably need to think about the cost of a phono and a good stand. I agree that it would not be great to use the Grado with a nice deck. In fact, I think that I want a MC cart. don't I? Thanks again for the great suggestions so far.
"For $2,000 you could have a used Rega P-5 with a brand new Benz Glider!" (Elizabeth)

For a lot of us, $2k would not be a "limited" TT + cartridge budget. About 12 years ago, I bought a slightly used Rega P25 w/a new Benz Glider for about $1275, & loved it. Later I bought a lightly used C-J phono pre for maybe $700. After that I briefly had a Rega P-5 used that I paid $1100 for, was a really high quality beautiful TT.

You can do a LOT w/a $2k TT/cartridge + even a phono pre budget......
Don't be too quick to give up on the Grado. It is a decent cartridge. If you buy a used package of tt/arm/cart as you suggested, your choices will be more limited. That Grado in a good arm, on a good tt, will sound a lot better than it did on your MMF5. Then decide on a phono pre, and that choice will determine to a great extent your choice for a better cartridge.
Steveaudio has me thinking about incl. the phono in the 2k. That sounds like a sensible and very nice package. I am also considering a Clearaudio pkg. @ 2k without phono or stand. Thanks again. Great help.
You can get a NOS Acoustic Signature Manfred with stock RB 250 arm new for around $2000.Add an Ortofon 2M blue for not much more.The current model sells for $3500 and is identical except it now includes the RB-300.
There's an Origin Live Aurora listed right now for 1399.00 which has received positive reviews. It is a stunning looking table as well.
The Origin Live does look nice but they are asking retail for it. (899.00 pounds) The Acoustic Signature Manfred also looks very nice. Couple those with the Clearaudio Emotion Red pkg I'm looking at and it starts to get a little confusing. I like the idea of little to no maintenance. The bearing material on the Acoustic Signature seems good. Meanwhile there is a nice looking Rega P25 and a VPI Scout. Help!
Buy a Lenco L70, L75, L78 and modify the plint and then put a Rega RB 300 OL modified with an Audio Technica AT33 cartridge. If you want something better you need many thousands of dollars.
I have owned many tables,and for me,The Manfred is a keeper! I currently use a Clearaudio Virtuoso Wood cartridge fed through a Perreaux phono preamp and am very happy with the set-up.I also have several vintage Dual CS-5000 tables with various Ortofon cartridges in other systems.They sound very good,but are not in the same league as the Manfred.The Duals are semi-automatic and do pick-up and turn off at the end of an album side.

If you are interested in a Manfred(with RB-250) let me know and I'll put you in touch with my dealer.
Unless you are a DIY type, I would avoid a NOS turntable - just in case anything needs to be adjusted/repaired. A new production table and arm with a warranty that comes from a local dealer may be the best bet for you. Many local dealers cary Rega and VPI and you can sit and audition them. Trust your own ears.
I really have to thank everyone for the incredible suggestions. Even as a 26 year home electronics industry professional, I have a lot to learn. I was not even aware of the Lenco tables. I would have a hard time going to a local dealer. They are almost nonexistent in N.M. anyway. I don't mind dealer closeouts or specials, but I don't think that I need to take up their time to make a good choice. I do now feel like I could include the phono stage into my $2k budget and still get good performance with the right selection & set up. I don't guess anyone would know how the new Clearaudio Concept w/ arm & cart. compares @ 1500 list?
"Meanwhile there is a nice looking Rega P25 and a VPI Scout"

Questions: Do you want to buy new or used? Are you good at installing cartridges? And what are you seeing used that seems like a good deal?

I'm biased towards Rega, besides excellent sound for the $$, there's the simplicity factor. Both Rega & VPI, everybody knows all the models, if you get a good deal on one, they're pretty easy to unload, & hopefully not lose much......
I was wondering about the 3mo old Nottingham Spacedeck w RB 250 arm and a new Grado Sig. for 1350.00. I used to be a Rega dealer and also like them. I don't mind used. Of course I want a good deal like everyone. I don't think that I want a lot of fuss with set up and maintenance unless that is necessary for good sound. The suggestions about the Acoustic Signature and Origin Live interests me. I'm trying to not get to overwhelmed with all of the choices. Obviously VPI is popular and must sound good. I just don't have experience with them. The Linn LP12 takes meticulous adjustment and buying used there concerns me. I also seem drawn to the Clearaudio decks as well. The Concept seems to be plug and play. Thanks again for the help.
I have owned many VPI tables(from the Junior to the Scoutmaster).With the right arm and cartridge they have all performed very well!!! They can be a bit "tweaky." The Classic looks as though it would be easy to use.
Transnova, how would you compare the VPIs with the Acoustic Signature that you mentioned previously? It seems to be coming back to the VPIs. How about the different VPI models that you mentioned? Was any particular one the best value? There is a TNT for 1995.00, but that would totally blow my budget w/ an appropriate arm, cart, and phono. The Classic does seem to get a lot of "buzz". There is one of those w/ a Scout Acrylic platter. I really want to make a good choice and so appreciate all of the help from everyone. I am taking all of these suggestions under advisement.
I have gone with the Manfred for several reasons.I love the look of the real wood veneer base.The speed is dead-on.The sound is nimble and fast,yet full toned at the same time.The Rega arm is less "tweaky" than the current VPI unipivot arms.The Scout is a terrific value and not as complicated as the current high end tables or the HW-19 series.The best value in the Hw-19 series was the JR.The suspension(sorbathane pucks)was easy and solid.With a Rega or AQ PT series arm those tables provided great sound and a great value.Of course,the JR could be upgraded to your heart's content!!!
Doesn't the Manfred also have a maintenance free bearing? I don't mind having something that is "less common". I may be using a Mastersound tubed phono preamp with my selection. Thanks again.
The bearing is supposed to be maint. free.I believe the VPI bearings should be lubed annually.
Any Thoughts on the Roksan Radius 5 w/ NIMA arm & Corus Black cart.? ($3410.00 retail)
While a little over your budget has a VPI Aries 1 with JMW 10 arm for $2300 (I had contacted one of the sales reps -Rick and he said he would do it for $2300 shipped). I was considering that table but bought an Aries 1 on audigon (for more but with an sds speed controller). The audioclassics aries has the orignal heavy platter (similiar in design to the super platter but not as heavy). The Aries is a beautiful table and sounds great. I had owned a linn lp12 and a rega p3 and this was a big step up in my opinion (the linn was an older stock version that I didn't want to put money into). The Aries is a bit large compared to some tables so you will need room for it
I will look at those. It is more than I thought I wanted to spend, but I appreciate the suggestion. The VPI tables seem to be universally liked. There are other lower models on Audiogon that seem to be good buys if I can't swing the Aries 1.