When I compiled the data for my Interchangeable Knitting Needles at a Glance post, I tried to
distill it down to the most important elements of each system. When it came to cable and joins, I offered a pretty bare assessment - whether the joins screw in or click into place, and whether the cables are fixed or swivel (meaning they move freely in their join casing, allowing them to untwist as you knit.) But there's more to it than that. There is an indelible feel that is hard to describe. There's some vocabulary for it - we talk about memory, kinking and curling in cables, smoothness and firmness in connections - but they aren't exactly evocative. How to describe that though the thin blue plastic cables that connect Hiya Hiya needles and Addi needles look almost identical, they feel completely different? I'm not sure it's possible, but I'll give it my best shot. JOINS When it comes to joins, I think it's easier to define. We all want the same thing: to not feel the join at all. We also want the join to be secure, and not come undone while we are knitting, leaving us desperately trying to pick up the stitches before they unravel.
Click connectors have the reputation of being more secure. That's likely true if you put them together correctly. Apparently, this is hard for me. I can knit Estonian lace in the dark, but ask me to connect my Addi needles to the cable and I will mess up 3 times out of 5. I also find I can feel that connection as I knit. It's subtle, like having a piece of tape on the bottom of your sock. I haven't had the chance to try it yet, but the Kollage Square system has a click connector that has to be undone with a specialized tool. I'm very interested to see if this would solve my issue. I would need to glue that tool to my hand to not lose it, though. Screw joins are much more common across the various brands, and either they are a single size (which limits the range of needle sizes available, especially on the low end) or a range of sizes, which means using adapters. Adapters add length to your tips, and add one more join to the mix.
The key to getting screw joins to stay screwed (as it were) is to use the torque key every time. Do I do this? No. I often skip this step in my rush to get knitting, but at least the screw comes undone slowly. I can feel the problem developing long before the tip becomes completely unscrewed, so I finger tighten and knit a few more rounds, repeat ad infinitum. Tulip has added a synthetic rubber element to their screw joins and say that no key is needed to secure them. I have not had the opportunity to thoroughly test this out, but on first glance, it does seem effective.
Oh, and the reason why our needles come unscrewed? Knitting is an inherently circular motion. You may not realize it, but you are constantly rotating your needle in your hand, just in tiny increments. This is one of the advantages square profile needles can offer, especially to knitters who experience pain or fatigue.
The vast, vast majority of cables are made of plastic, with metal joins at each end. There are two exceptions I'm aware of: my beloved Red Lace cables from ChiaoGoo and Heavy Metal cables from Dyak, which are a metal wire coated with plastic. These truly feel "memory-less" to me. You can store them wound up into the tightest of circles, and as soon as you free them, they unspool beautifully. They also have weight. That sounds bad, maybe. They really aren't heavy (the 8" cable doesn't even register on my mailing scale) but they have a heft that feels secure and comfortable.
Swivel cables are increasingly popular. These plastic cables swing freely around in their joins, allowing you to twist your needles all you like without your cable kinking or twisting. There's a weightlessness to these cables that I can see being very appealing, especially to knitters of lace, mohair and other fine fabrics.
Finally, there's the texture of the plastic used in the cable - or maybe texture is the wrong word. It's a hand feel; a combination of springiness, stickiness, crispness and thickness. (Apparently, we're into baking territory here.)
For example, Knit Picks cables are crisp, and a bit thick. But Denise cables are thicker, and stickier. Hiya Hiya cables are crisp, but not as crisp as Knit Picks, and much thinner. ChiaoGoo Red cables are sticky and a bit springy. Addi cables are springier than Hiya Hiya, but less crisp.
I think this is all very subjective and a preference here is going to be highly personal. On the plus side, I'd wager cable feel is much less important than needle feel. There are a few cables I cannot abide that prevent me from using an otherwise good set of needles, but it's rare. And in most cases, a fixed circular from the same brand will feature the same cable material, so you can test it out affordably.