For pad hardware, there are a lot of options. Most people who started out playing on a console used shitty plastic mat pads which worked very poorly.
If they were lucky, they had a slightly higher quality soft pad with foam in it.
I got one of those at an overstock store for $5, but usually they're stupid expensive for what they are.
Either way, for those who started out on a console, chances are they were using a really terrible soft plastic pad.
I stuck with my foam pad made by DDRGame (a 3rd party manufacturer) for a long time, both when I was playing on PS2 and when I switched to StepMania on PC.
At a certain point, a soft pad will become too frustrating to use for higher level play.
As players progress, they will start playing faster and faster songs, and their pads will start causing them issues.
That's when they begin thinking about buying a hard pad, either out of a feeling of necessity, or a feeling of pure frustration with their current pad.
Hard pads are significantly more expensive, good ones are well worth the price.
There were several brands of hard pads back in the day, all very expensive and not particularly worth the price.
Since about 2015 (I think), there has been a small Polish company run by a family and their friends called L-Tek that makes excellent quality hard pads out of metal and wood.
I got an L-Tek pad in 2021.
They're reasonably priced at around $220, but after factoring in shipping from Poland to the United States and the payment processor fee, the price ends up getting much higher.
When all was said and done, I paid $347 for mine.
It sounds like quite a high price, but it's well worth the money for those who intend to play consistently and want to do high level play.
The pad quality is very good, and will handle plenty of stomping without any issues.
With one play session it will lose its nice shiny appearance though. Even so, it's a fantastic pad and well worth the money.