There is a ton less spray in a '96 than an '88.
How much have you been out in the 1996? Even at 15 off on a '88 you are getting soaked. The back seat is a virtual shower in the '88 if there is any crosswind. The wake it self has a bit less rooster on a '95-'97 than the '88 as well.
As far as what is the best, You can't beat a current generation 2003 or newer 190/197. New is usually better.
The slalom world record was 3 at 39 off in 1973. For the crap that they skied on and the wake they had to live with then, we should be able to get by with what we have now!
Much of the improvements have gone to the wake boats because that is where the majority of sales are. It is just a little capitalism at work. Thats probably why we are talking skiing on a wake forum! www.waterskis.com