The drum ensemble or sain wain is composed of drums formed into a circle, gongs similarly hung, gongs within a framework, shawm (hne), the big drum, the horizontal drum (sakhun), six small upright drums, a short drum, cymbals and clappers.
The drum circle (sain wain) is made up of 18 to 24 graduated drums slung from slats which form a circle. The drums are tuned by sticking lumps of dough to the membrane. The dough is a kneaded mixture of boiled rice and wood ash.
Drum players for the monarch are expected to be quick at withdrawing their hand after striking a drum or else the hand could be caught in the strings of hide which hold the drums hung from the tips of the slats.
It is essential for the sound of the drum to be firm, distinct, loud, accurate and resonant.
Historically, the drum circle is classed as ‘royal' because it is used for performances in the palace, but called 'common' by the citizens. Royal drum ensembles adopt different fashions, including embellishment with colored glass mosaic and gilt. The ensemble with white glass mosaic is called the "royal diamond ensemble". The "royal ruby ensemble" uses red glass mosaic, and the multi-coloured glass drum ensemble is called the "royal nine-gems ensemble." The gilt ensemble is called the "golden ensemble", and the silver-coloured ensemble is called the "silver ensemble".
According to the Glass Palace Chronicle, the drum circle was an already known musical instrument as far back as A.D. 1544. During the Inwa period (1364-1555), the drum circle was played as part of the ceremonial entrance and exit of the kings. As the years went by, the drum ensemble was slowly modified in appearance. Theatrical troupes decorated the drum circle with glass mosaic, and they also gilded the two-headed horizontal drum on a stand. This modification came about towards the end of the Konbaung Period, at the time of British annexation in 1886. The circle of drums was also made easier to transport by collapsing the slats which formed the circle. These slats are made of yamane (Gemelina arborea) which is smooth-grained, tough, not easily chipped, with a propensity not to warp and that make it easy to transport.
The drum ensemble has the circumference of 15' 10" and a total height of 3'8". The part between the ground and the slats is called the pedestal. The length of cane strap which keeps the slats and hung drums upright is called pillow. The circle of cane that wraps around the upper part of the slats is the arm, while the cane that coils around the feet is the hood. The three-inch peg above the arm on which the drums are hung is known as the upright ears.
The stand on which the two-headed big drum is hung on the left side of the drum circle is called the big drum bearer. The posts near the drum circle that supports the big drum bearer is the witness stand. The big- drum bearer is in the figure of a serpent and the posts, which support the near end of that figure, are the pig bipod. To complete the ensemble, a low stool on which the shawm musician sits on is called the monkey stool.