It was actually around 2006 when it nosedived; in late 05 I had to replace my Plextor 716 and they were still around making a decent product. For accurate rips using Exact Audio Copy nothing beat a Plextor. Then they started rebadging other makes, quality suffered and there was no point in Plextor anymore.
You're right, I just went downstairs to a back storage room and a shelf agrees with you. On it, amongst other pieces of technological nostalgia, is a PX-708A and a PX-716SA. I think I used the PX-708A more recently to extra audio from a heavily scratched out-of-print commercial disc.