The NF-R8 is "quite old" now, and for its price, there are better fans, such as BeQuiet, NB, etc...
For me the NF-R8 is a "golden oldie"... golden, but in my opinion overtaken by newer fans.
Fans are not like computer components. They don't just get "old" (ie, the technology made obsolete by faster, more powerful chips) -- if it was 15 dBA@1m in 2002, unless production changes were made, a new sample of the same model will be the same in 2012. Unless you have actually compared these various fans side by side (and preferably more than one sample each), it's hard to give much credence to your comments.
I don't know how noisy they were in 2002, but I bought 2 recently and they are rather poor performers. They are not quiet, and the noise they make is not pleasant. They shift a lot of air out in the open, but the flow suffers badly when they are in a well ventillated case (Antec ISK300-65). This requires that I run them quite fast.
I bought the Noctuas to replace two cheap no-name fans that were hard to hear a couple of years ago, when they were new. They became noisy with age, so I used these Noctuas. I wish I knew where I could find the cheap fans I had before.