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Ubuntu Karmic comes by default with ALSA 1.0.20 and if that doesn't work for you, an upgrade to ALSA 1.0.21 might be the solution. We wrote about the ALSA upgrade script for Ubuntu and Debian but there is an easier way of upgrading ALSA: by using a repository (Launchpad PPA).

What's the reason for which Ubuntu Karmic Koala comes with ALSA 1.0.20 and not 1.0.21?

That's because new packages get pulled into the development version until a certain date that is called feature freeze (that was august 27th for Ubuntu Karmic). ALSA 1.0.21 was released on august 31st, therefore too late. While the new ALSA may not have caused any breakage, it might also have been the opposite, and the goal of the final stage of development is to make the system as stable as possible with a certain set of packages, which by release date may not be the newest anymore.

Let's upgrade Ubuntu Karmic ALSA to 1.0.21

Firstly, please remember that this repository is unstable and you should only upgrade if you are having issues with the sound. That being said, let's proceed to adding the Launchpad PPA. Open a terminal and paste the following command (there are packages available only for Ubuntu Karmic Koala!):
sudo add-apt-repository ppa:ricotz/unstable

Then, use the following command to upgrade your Ubuntu Karmic to ALSA 1.0.21:
sudo apt-get update && sudo apt-get upgrade

If you want to remove ALSA 1.0.21, see THIS post -> it will remove this PPA and everything you installed from it. Then, install ALSA from the official Ubuntu repositories.

Update: Alsa 1.0.22 was released! (Ubuntu installation instructions)